Desire for control of the Calnash Ag Event Centre operations came to a head during the Ponoka Agricultural Society’s (PAS) AGM.
About 80 people showed up to the meeting held Dec. 10 at the Hudson Green Nature and Activity Centre, including directors of the Ponoka Stampede and Exhibition Association (PSA). Everyone bought the $5 membership to the society, which allowed them a voice and vote during the proceedings.
People attended after hearing the ag society and the Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society (PAECS) could not come to an agreement over the operations of the building. That impasse had both groups agreeing that PAS’s control of the building must end Dec. 31, 2018.
The issue was so contentious that the ag society’s lawyer Rick Hemmingsen; Fred Young, manager of rural life enhancement of agriculture grants, and Tim Carson, CEO of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies (AAAS) were in attendance.
The meeting went for three hours.
A few years ago, operations fell under the umbrella of the ag society to be able to take advantage of grant funding while an operational committee, made up of the PAECS members, would manage its affairs.
In 2017 the building was granted just over $88,000 and for 2018 the building received over $82,000 through the partnership. Calnash’s 2018 revenues were $1.3 million with expenses at $1.2 million.
During the AGM, there was a clear desire from the society’s new members to change PAS’s board structure. And change did occur, the society saw three new board of directors, out of four possible, during the election.
Not all nominations were allowed. Danny Jones, director for PSA and PAECS, was nominated but was turned down owing to a potential conflict of interest.
Sherry Gummow, ag society president explained that a recent conflict of interest policy was created to tackle this issue and it includes all nine PAECS directors. The founding partners of PAECS are the PSA and PAS (three members each), a town and county councillor and a member at large.
Attendees weren’t pleased with the announcement and attempted to argue against it, however, Carson supported the policy. “Conflict of interest is a very real thing,” he said.
Gummow said since Jones is a member of the PSA, a member of PAECS, and also a member of the ag society, “That gives the Stampede Association four votes on the PAECS board.”
Jones said if elected to PAS he would not stand as a member of the PAECS board and would like to provide assistance for equine events.
In frustration, Ponoka County Coun. Doug Weir made a motion of non-confidence against the ag society.
“If you want to pass a policy like that, then you are all incompetent,” stated Weir, also a PAECS director.
That motion was received with surprise by Carson. He tried to bring some semblance of order to the meeting.
“I challenge you that your passion is about the building and not about the ag society,” said Carson, which drew angry responses from attendees. “From the outside looking in that’s what I see.”
Carson pointed out that the proposed changes to the PAS and PAECS agreement would likely not be approved by Fred Young as it ties the hands of the ag society completely.
To understand the proposal’s implications, Ponoka News requested a copy from both organizations, which was declined. Weir withdrew his motion after hearing from Young that he’s never heard of anything like that in these situations.
The tension was too much for director Georges Uebelhardt who said the groups need to work together. “This is horse-s—-,” he stated. “We’re here for the community.”
Ag society director Doug Hart, who was also part of the negotiations, called it a “hostile takeover.”
“It was a power move. They didn’t get their way with the operating agreement and so their intent is to take over the board of the ag society by putting friends of the PAECS board on the ag society board,” said Hart.
Why the impasse?
Control over the building’s operations is a real sticking point.
PAECS first sought a lawyer to clarify the wording of the initial agreement. PAS also later sought a lawyer to assist with the negotiation process, which appears to have added to the antagonism between the parties.
It is believed that PAS would be an operator in name only while full control would fall to PAECS.
Will the issue be sorted out? “I do believe in miracles,” said Gummow in an interview. “But I don’t see one happening between now and then.”
Grant money lost
The potential long term loss to the ag event centre is significant.
However, if there is another large AGM turnout like last week’s, control of the ag society could fall to a majority board of directors who support a partnership such as this. It could see a change the other way around as well.
During the meeting, Terry Jones, PAECS president and PSA director told attendees that there is money transferred from the ag society to the building, but those funds are actually from events held at the building.
When asked for an interview, Terry stated in a letter that the meeting showed it was clear, “…that there are quite a few people in the community that are unhappy with some decisions that the Ponoka Ag Society directors have made.”
He added his hope that the partners could find balance to get the agreement signed. When asked if the meeting was a take over, Terry replied that is not the case.
There was one ag society bylaw changed during the meeting. A motion from Lauraine Weir was made that if board members are replaced before their term is up, the new members must go though the election at the next AGM. Whoever is elected for that position would then finish up the term of the board member they replace.
This came after PAS made a change to its AGM last year that allowed replacing members to close out the entire term of the person they replaced.
The new PAS directors are Tammy Henkelman, Lauraine Weir and Doug Hosler while Joyce Winter will remain on the board. Linc Drynan, Ken Pohl and Nathan Stone did not win their re-election bids.
This story was updated.