The majority of Ponoka County council was hunting for the termination of the Bethany Group’s contract, to severe ties between the group and the Rimoka Housing Foundation.
However, that suggestion was not accepted by the Rimoka board and was instead accepted for information, at their Sept. 18 meeting.
Coun. George Verheire stirred a passionate discussion at council’s Sept. 17 meeting. He moved to send a letter of suggestion to the Rimoka board to end working relations with Bethany Group within 30 days, following the stipulations of the contract.
The motion passed in a 3-2 vote with councillors Verheire, Keith Beebe and Gawney Hinkley in favour and councillors Paul McLauchlin and Reeve Gordon Svenningsen opposed.
“I think this would be a very good move on their part in order to save the integrity of Rimoka as it is right now. We’re losing that very fast,” Verheire told council.
McLauchlin, who is also the board chair of Rimoka, was caught off guard by his colleagues’ decision to send the letter and felt there were other options available to deal with the concerns of council and residents.
“At the end of the day there’s a due process for complaints and I think the definitely includes you taking your complaints back to Bethany and finding a resolution,” he said.
“It was a pretty positive meeting actually,” McLauchlin said in an interview. “It was a strong message.”
To move forward from the letter, he says the board is going to work harder to keep the lines of communication open between town and county councils, the Rimoka board, Bethany Group and the residents. “I think, for the most part, this is really a message for continual improvement,” said McLauchlin.
The Rimoka board didn’t meet over the summer and wasn’t able to address some of the previous issues brought up by council and McLauchlin believes the delay may have, in part, triggered their decision. “I think maybe they were frustrated.”
From the Rimoka meeting McLauchlin says the board was able to address two critical points. “We wanted to make it clear we do support Bethany.”
“We’re looking to really strengthen our support for Bethany,” he added.
The Rimoka board was also looked to alleviate the councillor’s concerns through strengthened communication and to speak to rumours.
One of the issues Beebe brought to council was what councillors referred to as a gag order on staff, meaning they couldn’t talk to board members about their own concerns without fear of being fired.
McLauchlin says this is not the case and has never been a part of Bethany’s policy.
While he voted to against the motion, Svenningsen had a few concerns of his own. “I know I’ve certainly had some concerns. I’ve had people phone me in regards to what’s going on there and in regards to the manager that was there, there was concerns.”
In January 2011 the CAO of the Rimoka Housing Foundation was asked to resign and Svenningsen thinks they may be heading down that same path.
“We can find a manager that can run this place better than they can,” agreed Hinkley, who’s troubled with the idea Bethany is replacing Rimoka staff with their own staff.
Another cause of dissatisfaction is Bethany’s recurring requisition, which was supposed to be a one-time occurrence set at $113,000
County CAO Charlie Cutforth explained to council the requisition was requested a second year because the $113,000 wasn’t enough to cover the cost of losing the Rimoka CAO. “But the third year and subsequent years is to a change of funding.”
While Hinkley understands Rimoka is receiving $245,000 less per year from provincial funding he doesn’t know why council still has to pay the requisition or why it’s been doubled.
County council is paying 70 per cent of the requisition. However, it was said during the council meeting that compared to other communities where Bethany operates, the amount of the requisition is on the low end of the spectrum, “Which we’ve always thought was good management,” explained Cutforth.
While he didn’t agree with councils decision, McLauchlin thanked council for their help in moving forward with the land purchase for the proposed Rimbey Rimoka site. “The council members that I think were in support of the motion are heavily invested in council and they want to see it do well.”
“At the end of the day we’ll find a resolution, they’re an effective board. They’re there for the right reasons and we’ll find solutions to the problems . . . The issues you’ve identified, we’re aware of them,” said McLauchlin.