Fort Resolution leaders say they asked the territory to take over as financial woes grew
Council members in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., say they asked the territory to take over as the hamlet's financial issues grew.
At a community meeting last Wednesday, council members gathered to discuss the territory's plan to dissolve the local government.
Turnout was low, with about 25 residents coming and going during the almost two-hour meeting. Six councillors were present, including deputy mayor Diane Giroux. Richard Edjericon, MLA of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, also attended.
The council organized the meeting because they wanted to share what went wrong, from their perspective, leading up to the decision from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
On May 5, Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Shane Thompson gave the hamlet notice that he intends to dismiss council and put the community of about 400 people under the control of a territorially-appointed administrator.
The hamlet's mayor, Patrick Simon, resigned three days later.
In a letter sent to Simon, the minister wrote that he believes the hamlet is experiencing governance issues and is incapable of meeting its financial obligations.
But at Wednesday's meeting, councillors said it was MACA that dropped the ball on guiding them through their financial crisis.
They outlined what they said was a lack of communication from MACA. They also questioned why MACA continued to give the hamlet money when it was clear there were issues.
"They've been very vocal in the media saying that there's two fiscal years of audits that haven't been completed," said Giroux. "At the same time, there's been very little direct communication."
Administration was the last option, says Thompson
Giroux said the current council reached out to MACA last year and "begged them" to take over the hamlet.
In an interview Friday, Thompson told CBC News he's been getting calls from residents and councillors for six months asking for MACA to appoint an administrator.
"I kept telling them, 'No, we need to work with the community government — we need to try to address it, fix it, because administration is the last straw … and we don't want to do that,'" Thompson said.
"We're supportive of the community and the council. Unfortunately, this decision had to be made."
He added that the administrator won't be in place forever — just until the problems are addressed.
Giroux said when council asked for MACA's help, MACA told the council they just needed a new senior administrative officer (SAO) and that then "everything would be fine."
But it wasn't that easy.
Giroux said they had been looking for a new SAO since last fall and were having trouble finding a suitable candidate.
"We ended up with a lot of candidates from out of the country. We had candidates that didn't have SAO experience. Another factor is once we interviewed [candidates] they wanted a really high salary, which we couldn't afford," Giroux said.
She also said the council knew there was a deficit, but didn't know how much it was. She said they tried to complete delinquent audits, but couldn't access necessary audit and financial documentation — something that severely hindered the process.
"We've never had accurate financial reporting," she said. "We did have the interim SAO provide what he could, but it was with the disclaimer that the books were not in order."
Giroux wasn't able to tell residents why there was so much missing documentation, or why they couldn't access it. She said she was disappointed the former mayor was not in attendance to answer these questions.
MACA absent from community meeting
During Wednesday's meeting, community members had a lot of questions for the council. The main one being why MACA was not at the meeting.
Fort Resolution elder Robert Sayine said their absence deserves to be treated as a big issue.
"Bringing in an administrator, getting rid of council — it's not something small. It's a very, very big thing," said Sayine.
"They should have been here answering our questions."
Council member Lisa Tudor said she invited Thompson to attend, but was told his schedule is full until the end of August.
"I stressed to him how important it was and how we had to meet with the community to let them know what was going on," Tudor said.
"He had a lot of pretty political speak, but nothing. It doesn't seem to be a priority."
She said she also suggested that he attend the meeting over Zoom, but Thompson declined that offer.
Thompson told CBC News he couldn't attend himself because he had already committed to attend a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers in New Brunswick.
He said he had offered to make MACA staff available over Zoom, but didn't hear back from the community about that offer.
"I was very upfront and clear with them on that," he said.
Thompson said he plans to visit Fort Resolution as soon as his schedule allows, though he couldn't say when.
He also told CBC News that under a territorially-appointed administrator, essential services offered by the hamlet would continue.
"We will make sure those are provided, and then, as they delve into the situation and look at things, we will then know what could or could not happen," he said.
"I'm very sorry that we had to take this step. I understand and I feel the frustration of the residents, and they have a right to be upset."
Residents propose solutions
People also made a number of recommendations during the meeting.
Sharon Lafferty, a hamlet resident, suggested the community invite several ministers to visit the community, instead of just one, and that they should lean on their MLA to help make that a success.
"I know that we're asking for [the] MACA minister to come into the community, but I think that we should invite more members," Lafferty said. "Maybe he doesn't want to come into the community alone."
She said the community has other issues, too, and she would welcome ministers from housing and education.
Edjericon, the MLA of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, said he would do his best to contact ministers to help make that happen.
Giroux also suggested the hamlet could look into the possibility of reverting to its former status as a settlement.
At the end of the meeting, Tudor said the council is very limited in what it can actually do — council members can make recommendations and motions, and advise.
"If that's not followed up by the administration, the mayor, the SAO, MACA — then our hands are tied. We can't force the administration to do their job," she said.
Tudor said the council worked hard over the last pour months to fix things, and they were under the impression MACA was going to help with that process, and that the mayor was also on board.
"I think it's very telling that the mayor isn't here to address concerns," she said.