Booze, favours and lawyers: Chestermere sues fired mayor, councillors alleging $650K in 'improper' spending

From left: Mel Foat, Stephen Hanley, Jeff Colvin and Blaine Funk are being sued by the City of Chestermere, which alleges the fired councillors and mayor 'improperly' spent more than $650,000 in taxpayer funds. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)

The City of Chestermere is suing its fired mayor and councillors for more than $650,000, alleging "improper" spending by the four men on parties, alcohol, a private investigator, a personal piano move and surveillance equipment to spy on a co-worker.

Former Mayor Jeff Colvin and councillors Mel Foat, Blaine Funk and Stephen Hanley are also accused of spending $415,000 in city funds, paid to law firms in the fight to keep their jobs.

The men were removed from council by Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver in December 2023 following an investigation and inspection, which concluded the city was being mismanaged.

The investigation results prompted the appointment of a special administrator to oversee every move that council made and every decision it approved.

Chestermere is a city of about 20,000 located approximately 10 kilometres east of Calgary.

The lawsuit alleges the ousted council members "made numerous expenditures for improper purposes that were not properly authorized by the city" between Oct. 18, 2021, and Dec. 4, 2023.

The discovery of the alleged improprieties came following an inspection of council expenses and a report, issued last month by Deloitte.

The inspection was ordered by McIver in January following the determination that the elected officials refused to adhere to the minister's directives, issued in March 2023 and, in fact, "continued to manage the city in an irregular, improper and improvident manner."

Jeff Moroz, a lawyer for the four men, said he was still reviewing the lawsuit and would provide comment when he had finished.

The men paid their lawyers with taxpayer money "in order to advance their personal interests in remaining on council," according to the statement of claim.

The City of Chestermere is attempting to recover what it alleges is $430,638 in unauthorized expenditures by the four men plus an additional $223,860 by Colvin alone.

The statement of claim was filed Monday in the Court of King's Bench in Calgary.

None of the allegations contained in the lawsuit have been proven in court and statements of defence have not yet been filed.

Hidden cameras

The lawsuit also alleges the four men authorized spending city funds on internal investigations and measures to "covertly surveil" city staff, buying mini cameras and "a hidden device detector" as part of that effort.

The defendants are also accused of paying a company called Electronic Countermeasures $15,000 in November 2023 to conduct sweeps of Chestermere's municipal building for electronic listening devices, according to the court document.

The lawsuit accuses the former mayor of using his city-issued credit card to buy $6,500 in alcohol.

Colvin also used taxpayer funds to move his personal piano into city hall and spent $100 on a digital family crest and personal seal, according to the claim.

The beleaguered former mayor is also accused of using city funds to purchase a painting at an RCMP fundraiser for $3,100.

Waterslide park cleanup

The city says Colvin paid $5,600 for "consulting service" to fired Thorhild County reeve Dan Buyrn, who was removed from the county council in 2017 by then-municipal affairs minister Danielle Larivee.

In the fall of 2023, before they were removed, the former mayor and three ousted councillors tried repeatedly to pass a council motion to refund a significant amount of property taxes to the Chestermere landowner of a long defunct waterslide park.

Douglas Lagore, who was appointed as official administrator for the city in 2022, "repeatedly quashed these motions as they were introduced and passed by the defendants as the majority voting-bloc on council."

But around the same time, the lawsuit alleges that Colvin instructed city staff, and retained private contractors, to clean up the waterslide park, which is on private land.

The cleanup efforts totalled nearly $158,000. Of that total, $4,000 was used to pay a provincial environmental fine "incurred as a result of the work improperly authorized by Colvin," according to the lawsuit.

Foat is accused of spending $680 on personal expenses, including noise cancelling headphones and travel for his wife.

Colvin and the three councillors were fired last December along with three chief administrative officers: Kim Wallace, Travis Fillier and Cameron Wong.

Three councillors — Shannon Dean, Sandy Johal-Watt and Ritesh Narayan — were spared because McIver found they'd worked to try to hold council to account and to move it in a more positive direction.

Chestermere voters will fill the empty mayor and councillor chairs next Monday in a byelection.

Colvin, Foat, Funk and Hanley are running to regain their respective positions.