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St. Albert council decides against office space for councillors

Chooses instead to provide each councillor $1,000 to create home office
Councillors still won't have office space in city hall after the role will be considered a full-time position after next year's municipal election. FILE/Photo

After voting last summer to consider city councillor a full-time job after the 2025 municipal election, St. Albert city council has decided not to provide office space for councillors.

The idea for providing office space to councillors following the next election was put forward by Coun. Natalie Joly last July. However, on June 11 the committee of the whole decided instead to provide each member of council with a $1,000 stipend for a home office after being elected.

“I have, like, zero appetite for investing in offices and things like that,” Joly said during the meeting, despite asking administration last fall to develop the business case. “I think we've all learned that remote work is fine, as long as we have space to meet people when we need to.”

Joly did not respond to the Gazette's interview request.

The first option presented to the committee was to spend about $500,000 renovating part of the third floor of St. Albert Place adjacent to Mayor Cathy Heron's office, which would have provided each of St. Albert's six councillors with an office space as well as a shared kitchen.

A pros and cons list included in a report to council by public operations director Tim Saunders says this option would be a benefit in that mayor and council would work in close proximity. It also said the fact the expenditure would be one-time only was a positive, although the actual $500,000 cost was listed as a negative.

The other option presented to the committee was to lease office space for council somewhere downtown. This option was estimated to cost about $90,000 per year for the lease itself, but an additional one-time cost of between $125,000 and $150,000 would also be needed to furnish the space and provide council with the required electronics and work equipment.

This option would be beneficial, Saunders wrote, because it's cheaper than the first option in the short term; it keeps council in close proximity to St. Albert Place; and it's flexible because new leases can be signed and the city could move the office if need be. However, Saunders wrote one of the downsides of leasing space for council was unpredictable leasing costs and this option would cost the most over time.

Providing each member of council with a $1,000 stipend after being elected, which the committee voted to move forward with, was the lowest-cost option, Saunders wrote.

“Home office furniture costs are estimated to be less than the alternate options as councillors may have furniture [and] home office [space] that is already acceptable for utilization,” he wrote. “The actual expenses for a home office can be lower if a simple writing desk and ergonomic chair are all that is needed.”

Coun. Sheena Hughes, who put the motion forward for the city to go with the stipend option, argued not only was the stipend the least expensive idea, but would also be the most beneficial because being a councillor means having irregular working hours.

“The fact that we have irregular hours, and we'll continue to have irregular hours, makes having to come to an office to technically do work actually more cumbersome than to have a home office to be able to handle the irregular hours,” she said. “Your office time with this job, it's not about how much time you spend in an office it's just how you handle the workflow as it comes in and how you respond to it.”

“Next term, if something were to dramatically change, then that council at that time could make the decision that, ‘You know what, actually we do need additional space,’ and they can worry about it then.”

Both Coun. Wes Brodhead and Coun. Ken MacKay agreed with Hughes, and said providing a stipend would be a good way to “ease into” having a spot on council be considered a full-time job.

“As the community gets used to the idea, and expectations around public councillor space becomes more of a stated requirement of our community, then we can make that decision at that time,” said Brodhead. “I think we ease into this rather than jump in.”

“This really provides us an ability to actually let the new council make the determination of what works best for them,” added MacKay.

The committee also voted on June 11 to have administration create an unfunded business case ahead of next year's budget for hiring a second full-time administrative assistant to support councillors after the 2025 municipal election. An unfunded business case means unless a member of council makes a motion in November to have the business case be included in the 2025 budget, the hiring of an additional administrative assistant won't occur.

Currently council is supported by one full-time administrative assistant, while Heron has an executive assistant.

“Although additional workload is expected of council after the transition to full-time following the 2025 municipal election, the extent of that workload and impact on administrative assistant resources requires further analysis,” Saunders' report explains.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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