Council workload, attendance examined

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COUNCIL MEETING ATTENDANCE:
(This includes all meetings where all council members were expected to be present)
Mayor Nolan Crouse: 254/254
Coun. Wes Brodhead: 248/254
Coun. Cathy Heron: 253/254
Coun. Sheena Hughes: 247/254
Coun. Cam MacKay: 224/254
Coun. Tim Osborne: 245/254
Coun. Bob Russell: 119/134

COMMITTEE MEETING ATTENDANCE:
Mayor Nolan Crouse: 289/290
Coun. Wes Brodhead: 186/204
Coun. Cathy Heron: 163/182
Coun. Sheena Hughes: 135/172
Coun. Cam MacKay: 37/64
Coun. Tim Osborne: 101/131
Coun. Bob Russell: 28/52

An earlier version of this article listed the number of council meetings attended by current city councillors. For clarification, council meeting attendance records involve meetings where members of the entire council are expected to attend, and include regular and special council meetings, Standing Committee on Finance, Standing Committee of the Whole, Committee of the Whole, Intermunicipal Affairs Committee and other meetings. For the complete list of meetings, please go to https://stalbert.ca/cosa/leadership/council/attendance/  and look under the heading “Council Meetings.”

In St. Albert, the position of mayor is a full-time job while councillors are considered part-time. But what kind of hours do you actually work on council?

Answers from current councillors ranged from 25 hours each week up to 40 hours – it all depends on personal choice and what each councillor wanted to focus on during their term.

One thing councillors do agree on is that being on council requires a flexible schedule. It isn’t a nine-to-five job and it often requires evening or weekend work.

“It really varies depending on both the season and the month,” said Coun. Sheena Hughes, who estimated she worked an average of 25 to 30 hours each week. That fluctuated from 30 to 40 hours per week during budget season to 15 or 20 hours in less-busy seasons.

Coun. Cathy Heron said she generally spent 30 to 40 hours each week. Heron had one of the busiest schedules in regard to committee and agency meetings.

“Most of that was of my own volition,” she said.

Heron said while councillors are considered part-time, that could change in the future – perhaps as soon as the next election. Part of that is because the current council has added several new committees which the next council will have to appoint members to.

Outgoing Mayor Nolan Crouse says those new committees will drastically increase the workload of the next council.

“Individually, each one made sense,” he said.

“It will be a tremendous workload change.”

Aside from meetings, Coun. Cam MacKay says one of his focuses has been getting out and meeting residents. He estimates he works an average of 25 hours each week.

MacKay has had a light load on committees this year, sitting on one committee that hasn’t met and another that has only met once this year.

“That’s okay for me, because to be honest I prefer to be meeting with residents and trying to deal with their issues,” he said.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said one of the largest time sinks can be preparing for council meetings. Councillors estimated that can vary from eight to 15 hours each week, depending on the size of agenda documents.

“There’s an intellectual process you go through, reviewing the options,” Brodhead said.

Council, committee attendance explored

The city posts a record of council and committee attendance for each quarter to its website.

Those records show high attendance during council meetings, but attendance during committee meetings dropped off for some councillors.

Councillors Russell, MacKay and Osborne attended the least amount of committee meetings during their terms.

Russell was elected in a byelection in 2015, meaning he has had half the time on council as those elected in 2013.

MacKay was not on any committees that met for the first two quarters of 2017. In the third quarter, he attended the Emergency Advisory Committee, which meets once per year, and he attended three meetings of the Agenda Committee.

MacKay said he balanced council duties with a full-time job, which often put his weekly workload up over 70 hours per week.

“You should manage to hold down employment and do this, although it is tough at times,” he said.

“I was the only person that had a job for the entire term this past term, so I really had to budget my time wisely to get everything done. It wasn’t easy, but you can do it.”

Russell was not available for an interview on council workload at press time.

All councillors except for Osborne are running in the current election, with MacKay and Heron running against former councillor Malcolm Parker for mayor.

Crouse, who is not running again, said there is a substantial difference between the workload of mayor and councillor. He sat as a councillor before running for mayor.

He said mayoral duties generally require more meetings with developers, managerial staff or attendance at events, compared to councillor duties which have more of a committee focus.

“I believe you can be a solid councillor at 25 hours per week,” he said.

“I’ve never believed it was full-time, but you could make it full-time depending on the number of committees you wish to sit on.”

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