This year’s municipal election has been full of issues for residents and candidates to debate. One of the biggest has been the building of the branch library, and another has been the disputes between members of our current council. However, there’s another issue that’s mostly gone overlooked, and deserves a lot more attention.
That issue is the fact that St. Albert City Council meetings start at 2 p.m.
The problem with the current start time is that many residents have jobs with fixed hours, where they are expected to arrive at and leave at a specific time. This prevents many citizens from being able to fully attend council meetings, either in the public gallery or serving as City Council members. Streaming Council meetings does not necessarily help either, if employees are prohibited from streaming online media at work or are doing something that requires their full concentration.
A look at our current slate of candidates for City Council shows that many of them are retired, self-employed, recently graduated, or stay-at-home parents. This gives them a lot more flexibility to set their own schedules, flexibility that people with fixed-hour jobs may not have.
It’s been argued that starting the Council meetings later would lead to council members not being able to make the best decisions later in the meeting due to fatigue. If that’s the case, then St. Albert could steal an idea from Morinville. Morinville’s meetings start at 7:30 p.m., but when I worked there council and town staff would gather much earlier to do the “in camera” business (anything that is done behind closed doors and barred to the public) before opening the doors to the public. St. Albert’s usual practice is to either save in camera issues for the end of a council meeting, or more rarely to move back and forth. The in camera business could start at various times, depending on how much of it needs to be done, which would make it easier for people with fixed-hour jobs to attend and serve on council.
Starting later in the evening is not uncommon in Alberta. Camrose opens its meetings at 5 p.m. Stony Plain, Fort Saskatchewan, Airdrie and Spruce Grove open their meetings at 6 p.m.. Medicine Hat starts at 6:30 p.m., Leduc and Beaumont start at 7 p.m. Morinville starts at 7:30. While communities like Edmonton (9:30 a.m.), Lethbridge (1:30 p.m.) and Red Deer (2:30 p.m.) start their meetings earlier in the day, there are still many others who meet at times when more people are likely to get off work.
Moving the start of St. Albert City Council meetings to later in the afternoon would be a way to increase both the general transparency of council and the number of candidates who would be able to serve on Council. It does not need to be as late as the times used by other communities, but such a change would benefit not only city council, but the city of St. Albert as a whole.