Anyone who says you can’t fight city hall obviously wasn’t at the regular meeting of Wetaskiwin city council Jan.9.
John Goofers, owner of Norwood Developments, appeared before council in their chambers to appeal a property clean-up order he was issued by mail dated Nov. 23.
The order, issued by the city’s protective services department, involved property located at 3602 49th Street, Plan 7821171, Bl 53, Lot 12 owned by Norwood Developments. The order stated, “As a result of the inspection of the property that occurred on Oct. 6, 2016 by the Engineering Services in regards to the demolition pit located on the property…You are therefore ordered to…remove the portion of the demolition pile that is currently located approximately 8.8 meters onto the city roadway and roadway allowance. You must comply with this order on or before Dec. 14, 2016.”
The letter finished by stating Section 566(1) of the Municipal Government Act gives the city the authority to fine a non-compliant recipient up to $10,000 or a jail term up to a year, or both.
Goofers wanted to appeal the order, and also felt he hadn’t be treated fairly or properly. “I find the period of time very short to deal with this order,” said Goofers to council. He said 20 days was not long enough in a very cold winter to remove the material. Also, he pointed out that, yes, some of the material had come from his property, but some of it was refuse and garbage dumped by unknown people despite the fact the city has a “no dumping” sign right there.
He also questioned why the order was sent in the first place, rather than a city staff member just calling him and talking about the problem. “And I’d like to know why you guys are so heavy-handed all the time,” said Goofers. Goofers said it seems like when a member of the business community applies for something, it takes long periods of time to get a response but he gets an order that includes details about imprisonment.
“You threatened us with imprisonment,” said Goofers. “Where does the city get the authority to imprison people?”
Councilor Wayne Neilson asked Goofers, “How long has that pile been there that you can recollect?” Goofers responded about 12 years.
Councilor June Boyda asked Goofers why 20 days was not long enough. Goofers responded, “It’s just that it’s frozen now.” He said he doesn’t have a problem working with the city, but he runs a business and has a lot to do, often working out of town. He said it’s difficult to just drop everything for this order.
Councilor Patricia MacQuarrie asked if Goofers was willing to clean up everything in the cul-de-sac, not just his debris. There was confusion throughout the evening on this point, as early on Goofers stated Norwood Developments would clean up and crush “anything not on our property,” but later in the meeting Goofers said, “I will not be moving the garbage.” Several times during the meeting the garbage was described as old furniture, propane tanks and other material.
Director of protective services Leigh Sawicki along with peace officers Eric Christiansen and Trent Jager were all at the meeting. Sawicki stated the order was a standard letter that is used in those situations. After some questions from council, Sawicki stated there was a complaint from the city public works department that the cul-de-sac couldn’t be cleaned, so the order was issued.
Councilor Neilson asked why a staff member didn’t phone Goofers to which Sawicki answered several times that staff followed the policy and procedures in place for situations like this, which are actually similar to those in place in other municipalities. He stated that personally contacting people as Neilson suggested isn’t practical when it comes to the time needed.
It was noted the letter Goofers received didn’t have a “contact us if you have concerns” portion, but did have information about appealing the decision.
Councilor Neilson noted there is a big difference between a phone call and a letter threatening imprisonment. “I’m not so sure the person receiving the notice would agree if it’s the same,” he said. “To me, business friendly means having a conversation.”
Councilor Tyler Gandam asked if an order is issued every time a nuisance property pops up. Officers answered that they always issue a letter, though it may not be exactly the same as the one Goofers received. Gandam asked if the consequences of not following the order are always the same, to which officers answered yes.
Councilor Bert Horvey began discussing extending the order time to give Goofers a chance to clean the debris after spring thaw. Neilson said spring was too soon. Councilor Joe Branco noted spring has been known to show up late. Goofers said he’d prefer to pick his own date.
Gandam suggested sending city staff to help clean up the area, as some of the debris wasn’t Goofers.’ Councilor June Boyda opined that it’s possible more garbage was dumped there because other people saw Goofers’ debris there.
Gandam pointed out it was dumped on city property, not Goofers’.
Eventually, councilor voted 5-2 in favour of extending the time period to July 31 for Norwood developments to clean up debris located in the cul-de-sac in question.