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City to change format of council meetings

New options may include starting at 9:30 a.m. instead of 2 p.m.
STOCK St. Albert Place in St. Albert November 1, 2017.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Council is exploring different options for meeting formats to reduce the length of Monday-night council meetings.

In a council meeting July 4, members voted to do away with the current system and explore new options for meeting formats, with the possibility of committee and council meetings starting at 9:30 a.m., instead of 2 p.m.

Currently, St. Albert city council discusses city matters in several committee meetings every month, where only a portion of council members will attend, along with the typical city council meetings.

The current system has some, but not all, members of council attend different committee meetings to discuss issues before they hit the council floor, and was implemented in the hopes of lightening the debate and discussion time at council meetings, and have some of the important details fleshed out beforehand.

In a 6-1 vote in favour of removing the current system, with only Mayor Cathy Heron in opposition, the city will now explore other options for council to meet and make decisions. 

Heron said the current system allows for the other councillors — who are only part time — to divide and conquer the work of council, rather than have all meetings be mandatory for all members. The current model also wasn’t given a fair chance, Heron said, adding she wants to continue to try it with more support.

“No model will work if it isn’t fully supported and, to tell you the truth, I don’t think this standing model is ever given the full support to make it work,” Heron said.

But the rest of council disagreed. 

Coun. Mike Killick said attending both of the committee meetings had become nearly mandatory to understand what was happening with the items that come before council, including hearing the discussion and background information from administration.

“From my perspective as a new councillor … it was almost mandatory, I felt obligated to attend both subcommittee meetings,” Killick said.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said if the current meeting schedule wasn’t working for some members of council, it should be scrapped and reconsidered.

“If it doesn't work for all it doesn't work for any,” Brodhead said.

City administration proposed an alternative system, which featured several committee of the whole meetings — a meeting where all council members would attend — a month, along with one city council meeting per month, with opportunities to add additional days if council saw fit.

But council rejected the new proposal unanimously, citing concerns over just one council meeting per month, as their current meetings can sometimes extend up to eight hours long.

Instead, administration was asked to bring back a proposal for a new council meeting schedule.

David Leflar, St. Albert’s chief legislative officer, told council he would bring a proposal to have council members meet twice a month in their official council meeting, along with one committee of the whole meeting.

Leflar told council the proposal will see all of the meetings start at 9:30 a.m., a move Brodhead has been pushing for for years.

Meetings have historically started later in the day, currently at 2 p.m., so members of the public can attend public hearings after their workday is finished.

But Brodhead said COVID-19 has shown council members the public can tune in and speak virtually without having to worry about leaving their work to comment on important issues.

“And if we start our committee meetings at 9:30 a.m. I believe that the city gets the very best time of our days and the best decisions that we make, because we're all fresh, instead of making decisions at nine or 10 at night,” Brodhead said.

Leflar said his recommendations will formally come before council to vote in August.

Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette and has been with Great West Media since 2015
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