Councillor Paul Harris has been removed from the audit committee after failing to pay nearly $6,600 in taxes. The taxes were paid and he remains on council despite breaching the Municipal Government Act by going into arrears.
According to the Municipal Government Act, a councillor is disqualified and must immediately resign from council if they cease to be eligible for nomination as a candidate. At the beginning of their term on council, councillors swear an Oath of Office to uphold their duties of the Act.
Being in tax arrears is a breach of the Act. However, Harris chose not to resign and paid the outstanding taxes immediately.
Because of Harris’ decision to remain as a councillor, City council had to enter discussions of how to handle the situation. Council held a special in-camera meeting last week to discuss the issue. Within those discussions was whether or not council should take the matter to the courts for a judge to decide if Harris would remain on council. Council weighed the costs and impacts of legal proceedings and believed that a judge, upon hearing the application, would likely allow Harris to remain as a councillor.
Ultimately council found that although Harris failed to ensure the taxes were paid before they became tax arrears, he did not take advantage of his position as a councillor.
“I’m very appreciative of council in seeing that I’m not trying to take advantage of the system and it was an oversight and I’ve paid it up. They understand all of that and I’m very appreciative of that,” said Harris.
Harris also sent out a statement that read, “Council passed a public resolution sharing some details of an overdue tax account on a corporation of which I am part owner, and their decision about my future role on council. I’m very appreciative of their thoughtful and thorough deliberations.”
In his statement he said he became aware of the oversight in payment on March 13th. “Although I knew of the tax issue and payment arrangements were in the works, I wasn’t aware that this would cause an issue for my role on council,” the statement continues. “It was brought to my attention on March 27th at 3:40 p.m. when administration hand-delivered a letter to me before council deliberated what actions it might need to take. I contacted my partner immediately and he cleared up the arrears by 4:30 p.m. that day.
“I had the opportunity to share in writing the circumstances surrounding the issues to their (council’s) satisfaction.”
According to Harris’ statement he said he understood that this was an issue and it was cleared up immediately and council is satisfied with their decision.
“I am looking forward to continuing to serve the citizens that I was elected to serve.”
Mayor Tara Veer said council felt Harris’s conduct fell short of the standard prescribed by the Municipal Government Act and expected of a member of council for the City of Red Deer.
“In the interest of transparency and good governance, the matter was disclosed to the public and Councillor Harris was removed from the audit committee,” she said. “Although Councillor Harris failed to ensure the taxes were paid before they became tax arrears, council found he did not take advantage of his position as a councillor.
“Under provincial law, Councillor Harris continues to be a full and equal member of Red Deer City council. This matter has been very difficult for council to work through and we look forward to continuing to fulfill our commitment to public service with integrity and accountability.”
Although there have been many negative comments made about the issue via social media, Harris said he has heard positive things as well.
“I have heard some of the negative stuff of course and people have emailed me some negative things,” he said. “But on the other hand I’ve also heard a bunch of positive comments as well. People are saying ‘Stick to your guns,’ ‘It’s nice to know you’re human and you make mistakes’ and ‘We’re glad you’re on council – we fully support you’,” he said. “My supporters have continued to be my supporters.”