Town of HP served with court documents

Legality of Oct. 18 municipal election challenged

UPDATE: Editor’s note – The Town of High Prairie was served with court documents Monday, Dec. 20 regarding the Oct. 18, 2021 municipal election. Barry Sharkawi says the next step in the process will be dealt with in an Edmonton courtroom Jan. 4, 2022. The story alleging an improper election was conducted Oct. 18, 2021 is below and published in the South Peace News print edition which is on newsstands today [Tuesday, Dec. 21].

Chris Clegg

South Peace News

A High Prairie citizen’s request to ask Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk to resign amidst improper election allegations is falling on deaf ears.

Barry Sharkawi, who lost the Oct. 18 municipal election to Panasiuk 367-314 votes, attended council’s Dec. 14 meeting to express his concerns and inform council he is considering legal action to contest the election.

“The way it was done, the way it was run, they [Town of High Prairie] have to do it the right way,” said Sharkawi, who later added, “I want to get the rights of the 314 people who voted for me.”

Panasiuk has not resigned.

“Barry has made allegations that the election was not properly conducted,” wrote Panasiuk in an email.

“I feel it is vital that the democratic process be fair and proper. If the appropriate authorities conclude that the election process was not fair or properly conducted, then I feel there should be another election. Until I hear otherwise, town council was elected by the people of High Prairie to guide the town, and that is what we will do.”

As for specifics regarding the election, Panasiuk added, “I can not comment on the specific concerns as I had nothing to do with the election process.”

Sharkawi told council he sent a letter of concern to Alberta Municipal Affairs Nov. 5 and received an answer Nov. 29. In the meantime, he began legal proceedings and was given an extension by the judge to serve the Town.

The judge accepted the case, said Sharkawi.

Sharkawi requested a new election in part to save High Prairie taxpayers the cost of legal bills, which could potentially amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

“I don’t want to see the taxpayer pay for mistakes,” said Sharkawi.

The mistakes are numerous, Sharakwi alleges.

1. No ballot boxes were taken to J.B. Wood Extended Care Unit. Denying the right to vote from the 60+ residents could have potentially altered the election’s outcome;

2. The hiring of Brian Martinson as returning officer. The job was not advertised to give everyone a chance to apply for the job;

3. Ballot boxes were not properly supervised by RCMP at Pleasantview Lodge thereby prompting security concerns. Sharkawi told council ballot boxes were supervised by RCMP at the senior’s centre in Slave Lake;

4. During the count, the ballot boxes containing the senior’s vote was mixed in with another polling station.

Town of High Prairie CAO Rod Risling responded to Sharkawi’s accusations including the omission of ballot boxes at J.B. Wood.

“Attempts to contact J.B. Wood were made,” wrote Risling in an email.

“It is unfortunate that ultimately there were no ballot boxes/voting in the facility. Administration will do a better job of addressing this issue in the future.”

As for the RCMP supervising the process, Risling said the following:

“There is no legislative requirement to have RCMP involved in an election process. We do not see legitimate reasons to allocate tax dollars to have the RCMP involved in our election process.”

Sharkawi believes RCMP would provide the service for free.

Risling added there was no reason to advertise the returning officer’s position.

“Provincial legislation states the CAO is the returning officer with the authority to delegate,” he wrote.

June 22, council appointed a staff member to be the returning officer and substitute returning officer. Soon after, the returning officer resigned and due to internal staffing shortages other options were considered.

“Seeing that the election was only three months away, a search of experienced local people was conducted to see if there was even interest in taking on the returning officer position,” said Risling.

Martinson, who previously served in the role, was appointed by council at the Aug. 10 meeting.

Meanwhile, Sharkawi wants justice.

“I run a good campaign. You run for a position because you want to do something for a community,” Sharkawi told council.

He than added council “could do something about it” and asked Panasiuk if he would resign. Panasiuk had no comment.

“Think about it with your conscious,” Sharkawi pleaded.

Councillor Judy Stenhouse wanted clarity of Sharkawi’s request.

“What exactly are you asking?’ she asked.

“I can’t ask anything,” replied Sharkawi.

“I only want fairness,” he said, adding his lawyers were ready to serve the Town.

“You guys think about it. You want to cost the Town money?”

“I’ll wait for the papers to come in and review them,” said Stenhouse.

She was not pleased with the presentation.

“I’m picking it up it’s a personal attack on our CAO and mayor,” she said.

“No,” replied Sharkawi.

Risling responded to the potential legal costs of Sharkawi’s proceedings.

“The Town is always concerned about costs. There are numerous urgent requirements that funding is required for. However, if anyone chooses to seek legal action against the Town, resources will be re-allocated accordingly.”

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7 thoughts on “Town of HP served with court documents

  1. Congratulations Cathy to your dad for being mentally capable of making decisions. That is not true of every resident at the J.B. Woods, though. I used to work there. What was the protocol during other elections, I’d like to know.

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  2. I live in southern Alberta now and don’t know who to ask. I am wondering if Judy Stenhouse was part of the High Prairie council that voted to keep passing the chair personship around to different councilors. If that wasn’t a personal attack on the then mayor Linda Cox, I don’t know what would be.

    Maybe Judy can tell us all if there is any difference and also, if it was such a good idea at the time, how come when Brian Panasiuk became mayor, they all voted to drop the idea?

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  3. I have an aunt who lives in the nursing home and missed her chance to vote. Barry is right in drawing attention to sloppy election process. Going to court seems the only way to get Council to listen to him. Its a shame so many people think this is a personal attack. Obviously can’t differentiate between personal likes/dislikes and what is best for the Town. By the way, if Barry had been elected Mayor, the kids in Town would have had a snowhill! He would have been on this like a lightning bolt!

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  4. Barry has obviously taken a lesson from Trump. If you don’t like the result of an election, keep trying until you get the desired result. (How many residents of the J.B. Wood Nursing Home are mentally capable of deciding which candidate is the best one?)

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    1. Alternately, stick your head in the sand over this botched job. Or tell anybody watching “Move along folks. Nothing to see here. We are all fine and good and really know how to look after you.” Anybody who believes that should give their head a shake. Or buy a bridge. Or maybe keep patting their friends in high places on the back for the “good work” they are doing.

      Cripes these people aren’t even interested in running a toboggan hill and you think they are smart enough to care about an election. You thought about that at all?

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    2. Wow! That is pretty disrespectful to some of our elders don’t you think? My father is residing at JB Woods, due to progressed Parkinsons disease. He is mentally capable of making decisions, as well as anyone who does not reside there. Does his vote, or any other elder who resides at JB Woods in similar predicament, vote not matter? And who gets to decide that?? If an election is not managed properly, it should be challenged. I commend Barry for standing up for what is right. Our Elders deserve that!

      Reply

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