HP town council lowers the boom on Martens, Stenhouse

Councillors suspended, Martens denies allegations

Chris Clegg

South Peace News

(High Prairie) – The majority of High Prairie town council has agreed to punish Councillor Sacha Martens and Council Judy Stenhouse for breaching various sections of the Town of High Prairie Council Code of Conduct Bylaw 09-2022.

The decision was reached at a June 3 special council meeting.

Council accepted the 115-page SAGE Investigation Report findings that Martens and Stenhouse breached various sections of the Code of Conduct. The report was prepared by Shari-Anne Doolaege, president of SAGE Analytics.

SAGE found 11 of 15 allegations against Martens to have merit while 13 of 16 allegations against Stenhouse also had merit. The report is now posted on the Town of High Prairie’s website page. Please go to pages 107-115 for the entire summary.

Formal complaints began in March 2024 from Panasiuk, Deynaka, Dunn, Waikle and Yacyshyn. The allegations against Martens included harassment, bullying and mismanaging confidential information. Stenhouse’s allegations included harassment, bullying, mismanaging confidential information, meeting conduct, and expense claims. Allegations covered conduct toward current and past CAOs.

Martens and Stenhouse were suspended from all council committees and bodies to which council has a right to appoint until Dec. 31. Voting in favour of motions to do so were Panasiuk, Deynaka, Waikle and Yacyshyn. Opposing were Martens and Stenhouse.

A motion to strip Martens of her deputy mayor status until Dec. 31 was defeated. Voting in favour were Panasiuk, Waikle and Yacyshyn. Voting against were Martens, Stenhouse and Donna Deynaka. A tie vote defeats a motion.

Motions to suspended Martens and Stenhouse to restrict all direct contact and communication with Town administration and senior leadership until Dec. 31, was defeated with Panasiuk, Waikle and Yacyshyn voting in favor and Deynaka, Martens and Stenhouse against.

A motion to restrict Stenhouse from attending all conferences was also defeated with Panasiuk, Waikle and Yacyshyn voting in favour and Deynaka, Martens and Stenhouse against.

The meeting began with differences between members of council on whether to go into closed session. Martens and Stenhouse wanted the meeting open to give themselves a chance to defend themselves publicly against the accusations in the report.

However, Panasiuk was against, telling Martens items could not be added to a special meeting agenda.

Martens also argued High Prairie taxpayers paid for the report, and its findings should be released. While council later agreed to release the report (after a closed session) and post it on its webpage after the meeting, decisions were made and released without allowing Martens or Stenhouse a public defence.

Council was also asked to release the cost of the report but they have refused. It is estimated but not confirmed that the cost was at least $17,000. Council did not deny the figure when asked by South Peace News but instead chose to ignore the request.

Martens also requested to deal with the report when the entire council was present but denied. Only Councillor John Dunn was absent.

The meeting was in closed session from 6:07 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. as per draft minutes of the meeting posted on the Town website.

Martens and Stenhouse were offered a chance to respond to all accusations after the SAGE report was posted on the Town website. Only Martens responded and says she is innocent of all accusations.

“My duty is to the people of this community and to this town,” she writes.

“I do not accept this report. It is false, baseless, and without merit. Not to mention a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.

“I am duly elected by citizens that outnumber the (mayor and three councillors) seated at the table that wish to penalize me.

“To be fully transparent, I want the taxpayers who are funding this initiative to be fully aware of it. And to judge for themselves my actions, words and intent. I requested that the discussion be held publicly so that I am accountable to the taxpayers of our community, and I was denied that opportunity.”

Martens adds she favoured a more “restorative action” that benefits the town, but council chose to be punitive and “cause ill will and adversely impact the town, its people and the priorities at hand.”

Martens also alleges that council did not follow its own due process.

“The investigation was conducted in breach of our bylaw, which requires a written and signed complain. The investigation was initiated on Jan. 23, 2024 without a written or signed consent. It was on April 9, 2024, that the consultant procured the signatures from the (mayor and four councillors).”

The SAGE report cites a motion passed by council Jan. 23 “to direct administration to retain a third party to investigation potential violations to the Council Code of Conduct.”

SAGE was contact Feb. 7 to complete the investigation. Formal complaints were initiated in March 2024, according to the report.

“The allegations are vexatious and frivolous,” says Maertens.

“I committed to council that I wanted an open and forthright conversation; I stated that reconciliation had to start with plain talk amongst us. Councl disregarded my plan for a public discussion, and a restorative outcome.”

Martens also says she wanted to be represented by legal counsel but was not given the opportunity.

“I am the one that is being intimidated, ostracized and dragged through the mud,” says Martens.

“The psychological harm and lateral violence I have experience is insurmountable – all for doing my job with diligence, asking pertinent questions and doing the right thing.”

Martens compares the process and actions of council to a kangaroo court.

“It was clear that the councillors had predetermined their conclusion, disregarding principles of law or human rights.”

Panasiuk was asked before the closed session if motions and recorded votes would be soon be available.

“We don’t even know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Council sentiments

(Page 103 – SAGE Report)

Council comments shared during interviews describe their concern with a lack of trust and a need to strengthen the council dynamic and governance capacity. Some anonymous comments are shared below:

1. There is a lack of respect or acknowledgement for the good works that have been accomplished.

2. Two councillors target the CAO with nitpicky stuff.

3. Basically, we have had three years of people (on council) trying to make other people look bad.

4. The February 2024 council member recall petitions seemed to be an effort to create a “smoke screen” in response to council’s January 2024 direction to initiate the code of conduct complaint investigation process.

5. There is a lack of trust within council. We need to get to a place where we can actually function respectfully because right now, we are not at that place.

6. We leak like a sieve. Stuff just pours out from council in-camera (closed) sessions on confidential items. This leads to mistrust.

7. Encouraging hostility is like shooting the puck at your own net.

8. I temper what I say, even in closed session, in case it is leaked out. It is difficult to trust.

9. Council needs space to have difficult conversations. We need to learn to work congenially together.

10. We should be focused on attracting business. Rather, investors see Town leadership in chaos.

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4 thoughts on “HP town council lowers the boom on Martens, Stenhouse

  1. So what wonderful plans did losing mayor candidate Crystal Sekulich have? About the same plans as existing mayor Brian Panasiuk.

    Zilch. No vision of the future. No recognition of opportunity. Not even a semblance of looking after the interests of taxpayers. Really a strange mess of leadership from council members who have no clue what they are doing, where the town is heading, or even what they are doing to get a meeting pay check.

    Some commenters say we should all just work together. Work together? To do what?

    Maybe those commenters can get together and make a list of three things we can all work together on. Ha. Ha. Ha. The combined brain-power of such commenters and the councillors can’t even come up with one.

    If they had ideas, why has it taken so far almost three years. for the great reveal of even just one?

  2. This…. “The evidence paints a picture of Councillor Martens as a demanding council member who has disdain for individuals in the Town CAO position.”

    How accurate and familiar.

  3. Cost to taxpayers was $17,600.64 as of May 5th. Confirmed through a FOIP request submited to the town. The investigation ran into June, so the final number is definitely higher.

    That’s a very expensive “slap on the wrist”….


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