By George Brown
Another stormy presentation concerning 38th Street issues at Ponoka town council’s March 8 meeting disintegrated into name calling, threats of legal action and a call for the resignation of the mayor and two councillors.
Protagonist Nick Kohlman presented a document to council that outlined four questions concerning the costs and engineering specifications to install utilities and resurface 38th Street. Bill Kuncio and Tillie Lloyd were part of the delegation.
It was the delegation’s first presentation to the new council. The previous council had hoped to close the book on the issue last fall when it answered some questions posed by residents; others could not be answered because the businesses involved would not allow dissemination of confidential documents.
Kohlman’s letter to council also contained statements questioning the honesty of council and civic administration, prompting Mayor Larry Henkelman to issue a warning.
“In your presentation, if you make any presentation about town officials or town council being deceitful or dishonest, or disgraceful, et cetera, I will close the meeting on the delegation’s presentation,” Henkelman told Kohlman. “Is that clear?”
“We came here tonight to make a presentation and not to be told what we can and cannot say,” Kohlman replied
Henkelman maintained he would cut off the presentation if it strayed into attacks on council and staff.
Kuncio presented questions to council concerning the local improvement plan (LIP) and development agreements: costs seem excessive compared to similar projects, residents paying unfair taxation for a service they don’t benefit from, and residents paying for future services that they say developers should pay for.
“Not only are 38th Street residents being charged for something that is clearly not their responsibility, they are being gouged on top of it,” Kohlman stated.
“Our greatest concern is information is being kept secret,” Kuncio added. “What is so secret about this project?
Director of engineering Gerald Matichuk and director of finance Betty Quinlan sat in silence. CAO Brad Watson said he would take the questions “under advisement” because it was the first time he had seen the letter.
Kohlman replied the issue has dragged on for more than two years and this was not the first time the questions have been raised with administration and council. He asked why residents are paying twice for the waterline looping of 39th Street.
The mayor replied he didn’t know the answer.
“Do you care? Kohlman asked. “Does anyone on council care if these people up there are being cheated on their taxes? Does anyone here care?”
Coun. Doug Gill said council did not know the minute details of the tenders they approved nor the costs to specific property owners of the LIP.
“If you did not know, you could have found out by now, if you cared,” Kohlman said. “You are demonstrating to me you don’t care.
“Those people can shut up and pay their taxes. That’s the attitude I get from town council.“
“The most disgraceful aspect of this entire mess is the deceitfulness with which town officials have tried to conceal these unjust charges on this tax,” Kohlman told council.
At that point, Mayor Henkelman cut off Kohlman, as he said he would. Henkelman demanded to know by name which town officials Kohlman was referring to.
“Town officials could mean a lot of people,” he said.
“I want you to clarify who the town officials are that you referred to in all of your documents.
“Various town officials. The ones responsible for the things I’m saying,” Kohlman replied. “If you don’t know who the town officials are, you figure it out. You’re one of them.”
At that point, the mayor began to read from a letter prepared by council that outlined the Town of Ponoka would take legal action against Kohlman if he continued to “harass or defame town employees.”
“Your correspondence contains a number of improper and defamatory comments regarding town officials and employees,” the mayor said.
“We have advised the town of their employees’ right to bring an action against you seeking damages for defamation.”
Henkelman said the town would prefer to avoid legal action. “Specifically, the town demands that you cease publishing any correspondence attacking the character of any town official, either by way of letter or any other communication to third parties.”
Kohlman demanded to know what statements were considered defamatory.
“Spell it out. I’ve been asking for that for years.”
Kohlman also called for the resignation of the mayor and veteran councillors John Jacobs and Doug Gill for sitting on their “backsides” and avoiding the issue.
“Mr. Kohlman, I’m not planning to resign,” Henkelman said.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Kohlman replied.