It was a hot issue which got RM councillors screaming over each other behind closed doors during an in-camera session and those addressing the council breaking down into tears.
The meeting of the RM of Piapot council on Jan. 9 started with the swearing in of new councillor Clay Moorhead and a reading of division reports. But it was the awarding of a tender for the former Piapot school that evoked much emotion. Council read four tenders for the property, which was followed by an in-camera discussion session. The first tender was from Glen Sabourin for lots 3, 4, 5, 16 and 18 for $5,000. The second tender was from Joan Kinnie for $14,000 for the school property and land as one parcel. The third tender was from Matt Udal for $51,111.15 and the fourth tender was from Barry Weiss for $53,878. Councillor Graham Markert made a motion that the Weiss Gallery’s tender be accepted on receipt of an affidavit from Barry Weiss. However, in a shocking turn of events, the motion was defeated with a vote of six opposed versus three in favour of accepting Weiss’ higher tender. Instead, the council voted to accept the lesser valued tender from Matt Udal. After the vote, Don and Carolyn Beveridge, representing Weiss Gallery, were given the chance to address council. Carolyn asked council to put aside any derogatory feelings they held against herself and Don. She asked one specific councillor if he had any derogatory feelings against her. “Are you coming from a place that it’s just a council decision or is it personal?” she asked. The councillor did not respond, instead Councillor Travis Harlick requested to know why Beveridge was only addressing one councillor. Beveridge replied, “I am asking (the councillor) because I think that if he doesn’t like me for whatever reason he really shouldn’t be voting from a personal perspective.” Concerned Piapot resident Dawn Maalerud also addressed council and spoke of plans to tender the school building and lots separately despite a 2008 communication between the RM and Weiss Gallery ensuring the property would be sold to the gallery. The Weiss Gallery’s 2008 proposal details an artist retreat would be created on the property and the gallery would buy the land, including the school, outbuildings and grounds, at current market value. Maalerud noted the decline of the school property which the community at one time took great pride in and personal responsibility for. She noted one instance where she received a call from a local woman when it seemed that vandals were looting the facility. “I received a phone call from a local woman here that said, ‘There’s a horse trailer and truck backed up to the school.’ And so I went up there and here two guys had ripped the front door off the school and had taken stuff out.” “We took great pride in our school. I was the PTA chair, we fundraised as you know, we made sure that the things that we fundraised for went to the Chinook,” said Maalerud. “We worked really hard to keep that school and I believe in the integrity of the whole process here,” she said, addressing Councillor Kelly Bertram who also worked to preserve the school. Bertram addressed council saying there was a lot of waste at the school property after it was given up by Chinook School Division, of which Maalerud agreed. Reeve John Wagner noted Bertram alone did not propose the school be put up for tender, but that by consensus the council decided to tender the property and as the school sits within Bertram’s division it was recorded in council minutes as his motion. Maalerud asked for an explanation as to why the facility and land were going up for tender when the RM had an agreement with Barry Weiss from 2008. “In hindsight we maybe should have recognized Barry’s commitment more so than what we did,” said Wagner. Since 2008, the Beveridges on behalf of the Weiss Gallery have invested considerable funds into renovating the property with the purpose of creating an artists retreat. “In your heart of hearts you guys think that all of that development was done without any intention of wanting the property around the school?” asked Maalerud. “I figure everybody has a fair chance to bid on a lot. They can build on one parcel, they can build on two or three parcels and they have their opportunity. Everybody has the same opportunity,” said Councillor Lorne Kusler. At that time Don Beveridge re-submitted Barry Weiss’ proposal from 2008 as a reminder of their recorded agreement. When asked on Jan. 13 if he ever imagined the meeting would become so heated Wagner said, “No, it wasn’t really what I expected.” “I doubt it will be the last you will hear because I suspect there will be a legal action in regards to it, not coming from us, but it was made fairly apparent that that was going to happen.” When asked if it was a normal council meeting the reeve replied no. “Normally we don’t have to do recorded votes and things like that. No, it’s far from normal and no, I would imagine you are going to see a whole legal action in regards to this,” said Wagner. “You heard from Don and Carolyn Beveridge there at the meeting that this was probably going to ensue. We haven’t received anything formally, but I suspect that will probably happen.” “I’m anxious and I’m disappointed still about the outcome which is not honourable,” said Carolyn on Jan. 13. “I keep thinking in my heart that they will make the right honourable decision and behave as councillors.” “An injunction is being put in place until the court makes a final decision,” she added.