Arts foundation revels in new pact with city

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Mayor accepts blame for lack of leadership on AHF issue

Now that the future of the Arts and Heritage Foundation (AHF) has been decided for the next five years, the chair of its board is ready to get back to work.

Alan Murdock said council’s decision Monday night to renew the current stewardship agreement between the city and the AHF is “a vote of confidence” in how the organization conducts itself and its business.

“I was very impressed with the way council has dealt with the whole matter,” Murdock said. “I think they took [the stewardship agreement]very seriously. I think they recognized we do a good job and we’re good advocates.”

The gallery in council chambers was almost full Monday night as council convened to take up the matter of the stewardship agreement, with the future of the AHF seemingly hanging in the balance. Council had developed seven possible options for debate, ranging from negotiating a new stewardship agreement to disbanding the AHF altogether and moving their services in house.

But the seven options never saw the council floor as Coun. Wes Brodhead first put forward a motion to renew the current stewardship agreement for five years, with “appropriate revisions.” Though the agenda noted Brodhead’s motion was scheduled for debate after council went through its seven options, it took up Brodhead’s motion first, which passed 6-1. Only Coun. Len Bracko voted against it.

“Quite honestly it’s hard to argue with the success of foundation,” Brodhead said in an impassioned defence of the foundation, referring to its work in fundraising, caring for the city’s heritage sites and its work with the arts.

“The organization provides a vehicle for individuals to express their support for arts, heritage and culture. Our citizens can truly express passion for the arts by engaging with the AHF.”

The vote institutes a solution to a problem that seemed, when council broke for the summer, unsolvable. Already extended once, council and the AHF had been unable to renegotiate a new stewardship agreement for the better part of a year, something Mayor Nolan Crouse conceded should have been his responsibility, telling council he accepted “100 per cent of the blame” for not providing leadership.

“The community was starving for some leadership on this matter and I looked at it and in the past year didn’t provide the leadership,” Crouse clarified Tuesday. “I didn’t call any meetings or provide any negotiating mandate. There was no agenda.”

Crouse also regretted the lack of public debate, noting it wasn’t until early summer that council started conducting more AHF business in public and soliciting public input.

“There were horse collars around everyone — no one could speak publicly.”

Going public generated some conflict — a city report attracted the ire of the AHF board when it inferred the foundation, in spending more than $200,000 from its reserves, was actually in deficit to that total. When council moved in camera at a July 9 meeting to discuss the agreement, instead of deciding a negotiating mandate, they developed their own seven options that set the stage for Monday night’s vote.

Previously, councillors and administration questioned everything from the duplication of services between the city’s own cultural services department and the AHF to potential cost-savings by bringing all the AHF’s services in house, as well as the number of residents compared to non-residents that used AHF programs.

The resident/non-resident issue seemed to particularly bother Coun. Cam MacKay, who peppered city manager Patrick Draper with questions.

“There’s three options in my mind — have a resident/non-resident fee, the second would be for any outside agency to lobby other councils where these people come from or the last option would be simply not to provide the service,” MacKay remarked.

“I don’t think building a new arena in downtown Edmonton would warrant our residents paying a higher ticket fee simply to attend there,” Draper replied.

The ball now moves into Draper’s hands. Under two motions passed, Draper will have until Sept. 23 to receive input from members of council as well as numerous other affected parties and individuals and will use that to form a draft document. On Oct. 22, Draper will provide an update or final document to council, but he will decide how to move forward.

“It’s in his hands to proceed as he sees fit,” Crouse said.

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