Colleen Tatum’s eligibility to continue in her role as municipal councillor will be determined by a judge.
Council voted 8-1 in favour of referring the question of her eligibility to court on Tuesday night.
Tatum admitted last week that she had failed to pay her 2015 municipal property taxes to the tune of $6,700, a violation of the Municipal Governance Act and Local Authorities Election Act. She appeared on Fort McMurray Matters on Monday to try and clear the air, saying she wasn’t aware of the non-payment until March 1st and has since paid the back-taxes.
Members of council who spoke on the motion expressed sympathy for Tatum’s situation, but said that after consulting with solicitors they decided it would be best to let the courts decide.
“My sympathies go to the councillor, this is an unfortunate situation,” Councillor Sheldon Germain said. “But this situation has put council in an embarrassing [position]. It’s quite clear in the MGA and LAEA that the councillor should resign, and it’s clear in the MGA that there’s an issue of disqualification here.”
Councillor Jane Stroud was the lone “no” vote on the motion, arguing that the court costs would be borne by the taxpayer and the ruling would likely allow Tatum to continue as a councillor. However, Germain refuted the argument by saying advice from solicitors suggests the case would only require half-a-day in court, costing approximately $5,000.
Germain also tried to quell the public’s concern that there would be an expensive by-election, saying talk that one would be required was “not true.” Since Tatum’s removal, if it comes to that, would happen within 18 months of the municipal general election, a by-election wouldn’t be mandated and her seat would remain empty for the rest of term.
Before the motion was brought forward, Tatum was required to remove herself from council chambers due to a conflict of interest in the matter. Councillor Julia Cardinal was not present at the meeting.
Mayor Melissa Blake also confirmed after council concluded that she knew of Tatum’s tax situation on March 1, a full week before the rest of council was made aware. In fact, she said she was the one who first told the councillor of the situation.
“She had a reaction, as one might expect,” Blake said. “That week was really for her to get an understanding of the act, what she might have to do. It really was just a courtesy to give her time, and there was no other time to address council.”
When asked if she believed that Tatum didn’t know about the arrears beforehand, the Mayor replied, “Absolutely.”
“I know from my own life perspective that I have stacks of mail that I don’t always get to,” she said. “In her case she’s complicated by the business taking care of some of her bookkeeping.”