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Council overhaul approved

City council members make plea for unity in forging new governance path
St. Albert Place

Some members of city council are making a plea for unity as council forges a new path for governance in St. Albert.

On Monday, St. Albert city council passed all three readings of a series of bylaws that will reshape how council makes decisions. Coun. Jacquie Hansen brought forward the proposal last month.

“It’s really important we all individually try to make this successful. If we’re going to dismantle it, we’re going to be missing the point, we aren’t going to be helping the city,” Hansen said. “We’ve got two years to rise up to this challenge, to do things a little bit differently (and) to dive deep into issues.”

Now, rather than deep discussions on important topics happening in a committee formed by all of council, which then makes recommendations to regular council, the workload will be split up into two committees. Three councillors each will sit on two standing committees, one dealing with more social-related issues and the other centred on planning and land development.

Mayor Cathy Heron will serve as ex officio on both committees, with full voting rights.

Coun. Sheena Hughes was the sole member of council voting against the changes, and begged the rest of her colleagues to take a second thought, saying it was not too late to change course.

She argued splitting council into two committees takes away council members' rights to vote and be part of the decision-making process every step of the way.

“There are so many hinderances here, and all the benefits (Hansen) listed, we are getting now,” Hughes said. “So please council, I realize it’s a six (to) one, but honestly, it wasn’t broken. But this is not going to be an improvement.”

Heron said the new committee structure will be about “building trust.”

“There’s so many examples of this already working, and this is just another step towards that ... I honestly think it's beholden on us, to even though (the Governance, Priorities and Finance Committee) is not broken, to always be striving for continual excellence in governance,” she said, referencing council's main committee that will be disbanded in favour of the standing committees as a result of these changes.

Councillors Ken MacKay and Natalie Joly initially voted against the changes two weeks prior, when council was voting on Hansen’s motions to proceed. But on Monday, both expressed a willingness to support the direction of council.

“Part of my job being on council is to do my best to make sure the outcomes of council decisions are successful, and that’s what I’m committed to,” Joly said.

MacKay said he still has concerns similar to Hughes’ but added he would do his best “to make it work.”

“I do worry, but I’m willing to work with council to make it work,” he said. “But I did want to say I do share some of the concerns that have been outlined today.”

Functioning with a democratic system, Coun. Ray Watkins said all of council should support majority decisions.

“When we voted, everybody else should try to support the decision of the others and move forward as a group, whether you support it or not.”

Initially, the intent of Hansen’s motion was the hold “committee days” on Tuesdays, in which one committee would meet in the morning and one in the afternoon, with the possibility of a committee of the whole meeting between them if required. Those meetings will take place in the Douglas B. Cardinal boardroom.

Later during council’s annual organization meeting, Hughes proposed a friendly amendment to hold committee days on Mondays, which passed unanimously.

Another notable change to how council functions is a change in the time of regular council meetings. During council’s organizational meeting Monday, council decided to hold their regular meetings one hour earlier at 2 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. They will now be on the first and third Monday of the month.

When council narrowly voted 4-3 during their Oct. 21 meeting, one part of Hansen’s motion stipulated the governance restructure would be a two-year pilot that would be revisited prior to the 2021 municipal election.

Committee assignments

St. Albert’s two new standing committees will go by the names community growth and infrastructure, and community living.

Councillors Ray Watkins, Wes Brodhead and Jacquie Hansen will sit on the community growth and infrastructure committee, which deals with the following matters: infrastructure, economic development and growth, land planning and development, transportation and public transit, utility and corporate services.

Councillors Ken MacKay, Natalie Joly and Sheena Hughes will form the community living standing committee, which deals with: environmental matters, social and cultural matters, housing issues, protective services, recreation facilities and services.

According to the committee bylaws, councillors are given one-year appointments and have the opportunity to request a switch at the end of the year.

Hannah Lawson

About the Author: Hannah Lawson

Hannah Lawson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2019 after working as editor of the Athabasca Advocate. She writes about city hall.
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