Town votes to dissolve recreation board


Chris Clegg

South Peace News


The Town of High Prairie is asking Big Lakes County to dissolve the High Prairie and District Regional Recreation Board.

After an in-camera session at council’s April 11 meeting, they unanimously passed a motion that read: “Moved by Councillor [Brian] Panasiuk that council direct administration to enter into discussions with Big Lakes County to dissolve the High Prairie and District Regional Recreation Board and transfer operation of the recreation facilities to the Town of High Prairie as of May 31, 2017.”

The unanimous passing of the motion included a positive vote from Debbie Rose, who sits on the recreation board. Councillor Arlen Quartly, who serves as board chair, was absent from the meeting.

Because the session was in-camera, South Peace News was not allowed to hear the debate, so details of discussion are not known, nor can they be made public.

The recreation board has come under constant fire in past years. Many times, Councillor Michael Long has called for it to be “blown up”.

Also, the firing of High Prairie Regional Aquatic Centre manager Ginger Petersen and her husband, Seth, April 3 “without cause” by recreation director Lori Matthews resulted in a firestorm on social media and overwhelming support from pool staff, who sent letters of support in favour of the Petersens. A petition is also circulating to have them re-instated.

A letter from recreation board chair Arlen Quartly dated March 30 acknowledged concerns from the Petersens about operations, but warned them to keep in line while expressing their concerns.

“The board thanks you for your information provided and appreciates your commitment to the [recreation board] and its aquatic facilities, wrote Quartly. “We have head many positive comments from the community on the programming opportunities and the operation of the aquatic centre and appreciate your contributions to the success.

“We would like to take this opportunity to remind you that we function as an advisory board and therefore overseeing the day-to-day operations and management of the facilities rests with the recreation director. As we move forward it is imperative that our staff recognize and follow reporting protocol.

“We continue to support the structure of the organization and the position of recreation director as its administrative head,” concluded Quartly.

Big Lakes County will be dealing with the request in the coming days and weeks.

However, county CAO Roy Brideau, Town of High Prairie CAO and Matthews met earlier to discuss recreation board operations after the Petersens’ firing.

Ginger shared some of her concerns in an e-mail to South Peace News after her firing.

“So the whole thing stems from information I had been sharing with the recreation board, the town council and mayor regarding improper organizational structure with regards to a public aquatic facility. According to Alberta pool standards the owners agent [manager] must carry out duties responsibilities of owner which is technically the town.”

She adds the following.

“But the town has never had any way of knowing what safety and supervision standards were in place over there, if the facility was even being kept up to Alberta health pool standards and what kind of policies were being used to ensure maximum risk management. And yet, if there is an incident or drowning the one liable in court is the owner [town].

“This was presented to the board since the recreation director would not hear it February 19,” Ginger adds. “Since then she has been campaigning to try to get me fired, finally was able to succeed but still had no cause.”

The recreation board is funded 50 per cent by the town and county councils.

Over the years, three governance reviews of Town of High Prairie operations mentioned the recreation board system as not appropriate. The third and last review, known as the Johnsrude Report, five years ago recommended the recreation board actually be dissolved. Town council ignored that recommendation until April 11.

Asking to dissolve the recreation board does not mean it occurs automatically. The county council has a say under the Inter-Municipal Agreement, and rules are in place if either party want to dissolve the recreation board.

South Peace News will endeavour to find out what the rules are and update this story April 13.

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