In the midst of Chestermere getting hit with a massive storm, another storm has been hanging over the community. The continued dispute before the Chestermere Regional Recreation Centre, Rocky View County, the City of Chestermere and now the Ag Society, just keeps building and building with no resolution in sight.
For a quick history lesson, these relationships, mostly for funding assistance, began to sever when Rocky View County began to question some significant conflicts of interest with the governance and operations of the then CRCA board. RVC (Rocky View County) pulled their funding, along with the City of Chestermere, and called for the resignation of the entire CRCA board at that time, which that board refused to do. Since then, a new board has been elected, but the problems are far from over.
At the time of the election of the new CRCA board, it was decided to have the Ag Society have their own board. That segregation has also lead to tensions now as the division of files, property, contents and power is in question.
The Ag Society says, “The Ag society and the CRCA have always been two separate legally registered entities each having its own board. However, the same individuals sat on both boards. Now, we have different members sitting on each of the boards. Since the board election, The Ag Society offered to the CRCA board for one member of the Ag Society to sit on the CRCA board to facilitate communication between the two boards; the CRCA has not responded to our offer yet. Our concerns stem from board governance and conflict of interest within the CRCA board of directors. We remain hopeful that the CRCA will address these issues so we can focus on rebuilding our working relationship”.
The Ag Society has a 50 year lease (until 2042) on the Chestermere Regional Recreation Complex. This 50 year lease was granted in consideration of the Ag Society financial contribution to the construction of the complex. “We continue to work with the CRCA to obtain our rightful access to the facility”.
With RVC and the City of Chestermere both holding back their funding, it became quickly obvious that the CRCA was running out of money causing rec centre staff to wonder where their next pay cheques would be coming from and also if the doors would be kept open to allow for programing to continue. On Saturday July 11th it was announced that the City of Chestermere had called a special meeting of council with the only agenda item being the CRCA requesting a onetime funding grant. In that July 13th meeting, the City of Chestermere granted the CRCA their funding wish. The City released this statement:
“Upon receipt of an urgent request, City Council held a special meeting on Monday, July 13 and decided to provide a one-time revitalization grant to the Chestermere Regional Community Association (CRCA) to ensure recreation programming at the Chestermere Recreation Centre will continue this fall. Over the past year, the centre has been faced with a variety of challenges. A new CRCA board was elected this past spring and has been working to create a stabilization plan for the centre. However, the board quickly realized that the centre also faces significant financial challenges.
“Our community gathers at the recreation complex for a variety of reasons – to watch the World’s Longest Hockey Game, play pickle ball, participate in a class, or watch their kids,” said Mayor Patricia Matthews. “Council wants to ensure that the biggest provider of recreation services in our community can get through this transition time with the use of a one-time revitalization grant.”
While the City does not own or have any governing authority in the Rec Centre, Council recognizes that it is one of the largest athletic and leisure service providers in the City and an important part of the community. Determined to ensure that recreation services to the community continue and presented with the Board’s plan for a sustainable future, Council decided to provide the one-time $200,000 grant. The bridging funding will come from the City’s recreation reserve fund and allow time for the newly elected board and recently appointment management staff to begin implementing their new operational plan that they believe will ensure the sustainability of the centre”
But this wasn’t the only meeting where this plea for funding would be discussed. The following day, July 15th, Rocky View Council was hit up for funding during their regular council meeting. In a heated conversation where CRCA board President Mel Foat claimed they had been bullied by the Ag Society and then the Ag Society and members of RVS Staff claimed the same of members of the CRCA board, it was obvious that a bridge is far from being built. It could not even be agreed upon as to who uses the rec centre as the CRCA claims that 60% of members are Chestermere residents leaving the remaining 40% being RVC residents. RVC staff claim that only 4% of members are non-Chestermere residents and once Langdon is deducted from that, only 2% are other RVC residents.
It was also rumoured at the RVC council meeting that the annual Chestermere Country Fair might not be happening this September and this would be the first time in 25 years that the event would be cancelled due to the disagreements between these organizations. But the Ag Society has confirmed that the fall fair will go as scheduled in September.
CRCA Board President, Mel Foat, stated that he and the CRCA board have been working hard to build the relationships back with the City of Chestermere and Rocky View Country for the sake of keeping the rec centre operating for the good of Chestermere and area residents, which is the goal of the CRCA according to Foat.
Although the CRCA was thrilled with the outcome following the Chestermere City Council meeting, they were less celebratory after the RVC council meeting when council decided, following an in camera session with their legal team, to table the decision on funding until the CRCA had met certain conditions/requirements.
So what is required by the CRCA? Corwin McCullagh, Manager of Recreation and Community Support with Rocky View County, said “To a great degree, the CRCA Board is already aware of the County’s eligibility requirements, which were first communicated over a year ago and reviewed exhaustively with the Board’s executive last October in preparation for the AGM. We will be reiterating our need for conflict of interest guidelines and bylaws that emphasize avoidance, not just disclosure, of conflicts of interest and greater board transparency. This will occur sometime in the next two weeks”.
McCullagh continues, “Our position has remained consistent, the County wants to ensure the CRCA operates in a transparent, ethical and responsible manner regardless of board composition. Although the board has changed we need to see timely implementation of policies and bylaws that ensure responsible use of public and charitable resources. In regards to transparency, there are indications that important information has not been shared within the organization and that board members require better information to understand their fiduciary duties”.
When asked how RVC felt about the City of Chestermeres decision to provide one time funding, McCullagh responded, “The City of Chestermere exercised their legal right to terminate the municipal cost sharing agreement. We are disappointed, since the vast majority of facility users are Chestermere residents and a cost sharing agreement between municipalities is a required condition for regional designation under our funding policy. Rocky View County always tries to pay its fair share of regional assets, and we always hope to see the same approach from our neighbours. The City’s cash injection is a short term solution to prevent facility closure. It does not address the long term funding inequity that is associated with actual City resident usage nor does it directly address the fundamental governance issues that have existed for some time”.
Following the outcome of the RVC meeting, City of Chestermere Mayor, Patricia Matthews, said, “It was made clear to the City of Chestermere last year that our contributions toward capital upgrades at the Rec Centre would not be recognized should the facility be sold and so the City withdrew from our joint funding agreement with RVC until a new, fair agreement could be created. RVC has made it abundantly clear to the City that we have no authority or jurisdiction at the Rec. Centre so I’m not sure why any member of their Council would be surprised that we aren’t at the table with their discussions with the CRCA Board”.
Mayor Matthews also went on to say that Council made it clear in their motion regarding funding that the recently granted $200K is a onetime grant only and they believe that the CRCA board fully understands that. It was also mentioned that as of right now, the City of Chestermere has no plans or discussions ongoing about the purchasing of the land or the facility and RVC council has not approached the City of Chestermere with this option. “We are continuing to work on a long term plan for rec in Chestermere that would provide what our residents need”, said Matthews.
And with that, it appears that all parties are right back where they started a year ago. The only good thing so far, is that with the emergency funding from the City of Chestermere, the rec centre doors will remain open, at least for now.