Alderwoman Dar Heatherington resigns

August 9, 2004 

Dar Heatherington leaves provincial court in Lethbridge, Alta., in this file photo. (CP Archive/Jeff McIntosh)

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. (CP) - Dar Heatherington, a city councillor who was convicted of public mischief for writing lurid letters to herself and blaming them on a stalker, resigned Monday from public office.

After steadfastly resisting calls to step down for months, Heatherington, 41, read her letter of resignation to members of Lethbridge city council and asked them to accept it. The vote was unanimous. She told council she wants to concentrate on clearing her name and therefore wouldn't be able to serve effectively as an alderwoman.

"I do realize that this process will be an encompassing and totally absorbing one of my time and energy," she said.

Most people outside Lethbridge had never heard of Darlene Heatherington until she was reported missing last year in Great Falls, Mont., while on city business. Her disappearance sparked public concern on both sides of the border and a major search by police.

She turned up in Las Vegas a few days later saying she had been abducted and sexually assaulted. No one was ever charged and she recanted her account to Great Falls police.

But at a nationally televised news conference a few days later, Heatherington tearfully insisted she was the victim of sexual assault and that she had been bullied into recanting.

The alderwoman made more headlines when Lethbridge city police later accused her of inventing a stalker and charged her with public mischief.

Before her Montana trip, the police force had spent months trying to find out who was writing the alderwoman increasingly suggestive letters.

Her 3 1/2-week trial earlier this year included Crown testimony that some of the letters had been found on Heatherington's own computer. A judge ruled in June that she made the whole thing up and he convicted her of mischief.

Under Alberta's Municipal Government Act, such a conviction can disqualify a person from holding municipal office. But Heatherington refused to quit even when Mayor Bob Tarleck and her fellow councillors demanded it.

The city then hired a lawyer and was preparing a court application to have her removed from office. On Monday council voted to abandon the court action.

Heatherington told council she had always tried to do her best for the city and apologized for any "misunderstandings" she may have caused among her colleagues.

"I can understand your concern to do what you thought was right even though our judgments might differ," she said. "My desire to put bitterness and division of recent events behind me is paramount to finding closure to these proceedings."

Tarleck seemed relieved at Heatherington's decision.

"This has been a stressful year for everyone involved, clearly for Ald. Heatherington and her family, but also for this council and this community," Tarleck said. "I want to compliment this council for keeping its focus on the agenda of the city during this difficult time."

Heatherington indicated Monday she realized it was time to go, even though she didn't agree with council's move to oust her.

"I think it's time for some closure," she said.

"My family needs to heal, and this is a legal battle that I'm just not prepared to put my family through at this time."

However, she has said she plans to appeal her mischief conviction.

Her sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Another council colleague, Ald. Bridget Pastoor, praised Heatherington for her work before all the legal trouble.

"It's been a most unfortunate episode that's happened and the last year has been difficult," Pastoor said. "But prior to that, there was some very good work and I do agree with her comments on that, and I would like to thank her for the work that she has done."

Ken Ikle, who led a citizens' coalition to get Heatherington removed from council, said her resignation was long overdue.

"If she had been in any other jurisdiction, she would have been fired for the things that she did - especially when she swore in a council meeting, when she put derogatory remarks toward the citizens, when she called them vigilantes," Ikle said.


(CP) - Here is the text of a letter from Ald. Darlene Heatherington filed Monday with the Lethbridge city clerk:

It is with great reluctance that circumstances require that I submit my letter of resignation, resigning my position as alderman for the City of Lethbridge, effective Sept. 10, 2004.

This past year has been an extremely difficult one for my family and I, with the past few weeks being especially challenging. In the months ahead, I have every intention to continue to work toward clearing my name, however I realize that this process will be all encompassing and totally absorbing of my time and energy. Therefore I recognize that I am no longer able to serve the citizens of Lethbridge in the capacity as alderman and affect positive changes for the City of Lethbridge.

As I do not agree with council's request for my resignation or with the process initiated through the Court of Queen's Bench, I do, however, realize that it is not in my family's best interests for me to pursue that legal challenge.

Throughout my term as an alderman, I have strived to do the best for the citizens of Lethbridge and I am still committed to seeing Lethbridge grow as a strong and vibrant community. Even though this has been a long and difficult year, I felt it was my responsibility to make every effort to complete the term of office to which I was elected.

As long as there was the ability to work professionally as a team for the betterment of the city, I believe that it was necessary to carry out my responsibilities. I have never been a person to back down from the truth or what is right and to leave office prior to the completion of my term goes against every fibre of my being.

I regret deeply any misunderstandings that may have occurred between myself, council and those who felt it was not possible to support me during the events leading up to my decision to resign. I can understand your concern to do what you thought was right even though our judgments might differ. My desire to put bitterness and division of recent events behind me is paramount to finding closure to these proceedings.

Since being sworn into the office of alderman I know that I have done my very best to carry out the duties assigned to me. I am confident that I have made a difference and contributed positively to numerous key issues set out by this council.

Although I have the regret of not being able to complete my term of office, I am pleased to have had the privilege of working with a number of city employees and citizens since the election in October of 2001. Throughout this difficult ordeal, the administration and staff members of the City of Lethbridge have maintained a professional and courteous attitude. For this I am thankful.

To my family, friends and all of those that have stood by me during this past difficult year, and because they believe it was the right thing to do, I am especially thankful for their support and prayers. For this kindness, I will be eternally grateful.

Respectfully submitted,

Darlene M. Heatherington