Wednesday , 6 July 2022

St. Paul Town Council Addresses Issues with Communicating with Public

St. Paul Council Chambers was packed on Monday evening, as a group of more than 40 citizens gathered in hopes of getting answers to how the Town communicates with its residents, and what responsibilities the Town has, in regards to transparency. Speaking for the group of residents was Paul E. Boisvert who questioned if Council was communicating openly and efficiently with the public.

Boisvert says he became increasingly frustrated with Council over decisions the group had made over the past year. He, like many in the room Monday evening, came to a breaking point when rumours spread throughout town that the Town was looking to relieve the Recreation Director, Gary Ward, of his duties. Boisvert, speaking for the group, wanted to know how major town decisions were being made, why the residents were unaware of the decisions, and if Council and the Mayor were involved in the hiring and firing of Town employees.

Boisvert stated that after writing personal letters to each Councillor and Mayor Glenn Andersen, and only receiving one response, from the Mayor, he felt it was time his questions were answered. Feeling he had not received the resolve he would have hoped, Boisvert decided to address Council in person. “From failing to respond to legitimate legal questions, from any rate payer, does not lead to transparency; rather it leads to the opposite.”

Boisvert asked Town Council, “do you feel Council is acting in a positive, progressive manner? And if not, what steps are you, as Council members, prepared to take to establish transparency and maintain transparency when conducting Town business?”

Councillor Edna Gervais answered Boisvert that she recognized communication and transparency as issues the Town needed to improve on. “One of the bigger issues here is the revisions on the MGA (Municipal Government Act). I agree, there isn’t enough transparency here. There’s a few issues that are being addressed [in the MGA], one of them is public participation. I am a very strong believer that we need to give our residents more of a voice; a proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach. We should be having more public forums, so that they can have an opinion and not wait until we have a delegation where they are upset.”

Councillor Garvais explained to the room that there is another issue, not just in St. Paul but in municipalities across Alberta, that the revisions to the MGA are attempting to address: clear rules and responsibilities for the elected officials. Councillor Gervais says the Minister of Municipal Affairs is, “trying to improve the Code of Conduct for the elected officials and have them answer to the people who put them there.” The Councillor explains there’s been talk, in the Provincial Government, about how Council meetings are held to be inviting to the public, as well as, changes to how petitions are made. “It’s going to work well, is it going to happen overnight? No. But it’s in the works. They’re hoping to have the revisions done in the Fall of 2017. I definitely do see that there’s some changes that need to be done and how these changes have been brought about is the people of Alberta have spoken. If you look around at all the municipalities in Alberta that are having issues with their Mayors, Councillors, Reeves and elected officials, obviously, there is an issue and it needs to be addressed.”

Councillor Bogdan noted that she, and the other Councillors, recently had attended a workshop on the rules and responsibilities of local government, “we’ve all be refreshed and renewed. We are looking to be more progressive and transparent.”

Boisvert asked Council and Mayor Andersen what strengths and weaknesses each Councillor and the Mayor felt the group had. Each member of Council noted, in different words, that the strength of the group was their differences. That each brought different knowledge and backgrounds to the table, which has led to many interesting, informative, and at time heated discussions on important town issues. Mayor Andersen pointed out that at times discussions happen in camera (not part of the public meeting), so the community may not be privy to the discussions that had taken place. The Mayor assures residents of St. Paul that each decision made by Council is made with discussion, thought, and the best interest of the community in mind.

A common weakness Council addressed was lack of communication with the community. Each Councillor and Mayor Andersen said the Town hopes to work harder at informing the public of Town decisions; as well as, allowing for more public discussion prior to major decisions, when appropriate. Mayor Andersen addressed the Town’s website, town.stpaul.ab.ca as something he would like to see better managed and kept more up-to-date. On that note, Boisvert stated that having a two-week turnaround for minutes to go public was too long. Mayor Andersen said that the Town was in talks of making the “draft” minutes available online in a more timely manner. Another element addressed was the Town’s social media page and maintaining it better.

In regards to the Town’s hiring and firing practices; Mayor Andersen stated that he and Council only have one employee, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Harvey Filger. CAO Filger is then responsible for the Town employees; including the hiring & firing practices. Council and Mayor do not typically participate in these situations; however they have sat in on some interviews for Senior Administration roles, such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

With this members of the public asked to address Council, which was granted. The question was asked if the Town had plans to relieve Gary Ward of his position as Recreation Director. To which Mayor Andersen said he could not answer due legalities and he would have to seek advise from CAO Filger. Mayor Andersen did not confirm if he would speak to this question at the next Council meeting on March 28th.

Other members in the room spoke on Ward’s character and his drive for the community. Stating that a lot of good that happens in the community is thanks to hours of dedication Ward has put into his job and warn that should Ward no longer hold the position of Recreation Director, there may be a lot of volunteers who would no longer commit to projects that have bettered the community.

Mayor and Council could not give answers to the Recreation Directors position; as to whether there would be changes to the personnel or not. However, the group, though not satisfied with no clear answers, seemed satisfied in expressing their love and admiration for Ward.

Boisvert warned Council that without transparency and open communication rumours spread quickly in a small community. “When considering change, remember that there’s an emotional connection that moves the past into the future. What happened last week, what happened yesterday, what happened this afternoon, is gone. We have to move ahead. Obsession about any problem doesn’t resolve it; rather it exaggerates it. We should spend our time, as we have tonight, seeking solutions.”

Boisvert stated he was satisfied with the responses from the Town, mainly because it was “the first time they’ve ever responded to questions I’ve asked. I’ve been neglected, in my opinion, I’ve asked questions before and gotten no response. [This time] they responded.” Boisvert says he was pleased with Councillor Gervais’ response and he believes the Town will work harder to create a better stream of communication between Council and residents. “I think tonight, with the people who were there, especially the young business community that was there. The movers & the shakers, they came tonight. When the younger generation takes interest and speaks up, they can’t say it’s my agenda. It’s not my agenda, it’s the community’s agenda.”

*The Town did not confirm or deny any rumours regarding the Recreation Director position. Ward is away from the office until March 17th.

About Jena Colbourne

Jena Colbourne is the owner of Connected Media Inc. o/a Lakeland Connect. As a founding member of the Lakeland Connect team, Jena oversees the content creation of the website and its social media presence. Armed with a marketing, management and communications background Jena enjoys the creative aspects of Lakeland Connect, as such she is able to navigate the online world with ease.

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