By COLLIN GALLANT on April 21, 2023.
City Hall will hire a community inclusion co-ordinator to advance the city’s Truth and Reconciliation efforts, five months after the position was bandied about in budget talks and a final decision was left to top administrators.
On Monday, council approved the salary and office budget for the position at $133,200, by a 6-2 vote after again discussing whether the goals could be met with a contract position thereby avoiding a new permanent position.
The person would co-ordinate action on several of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action for cities, as well as develop and administer mandatory “anti-racism and intercultural awareness” training for city staff.
Creating the position and scope of the office was supported by the majority of councillors, but Couns. Shila Sharps and Darren Hirsch questioned if the work could be accomplished by a contracted consultant, existing staff, or through partnerships with other organizations.
“I want the community to really wrap its arms around the Calls to Action, but I think people get frustrated when we add positions,” said Coun. Shila Sharps, who first raised issues last year among several dozen new positions in the 2023-24 budget.
“Have we thought of partnering with the college and Medicine Hat police, and making this a Medicine Hat approach? Are we duplicating our efforts?” she asked Monday.
Public Services Commissioner Brian Stauth said council’s direction is to act on reconciliation and a new position is required.
“The position is not something that we could function with it on the corner of someone’s desk,” said Stauth, adding later that partnership was considered, but not discussed with outside agencies.
“It would be unfair for us to ask (another organization) to do our work.”
Along with training, the office would examine how to showcase and promote Indigenous history and culture in the city. Specific projects include the recently announced effort to work with the University of Alberta on the return of human remains uncovered during road construction decades ago.
Coun. Darren Hirsch suggested that since the job included several specific items, it may be better as a contracted position.
“We could always convert to a full-time (position at a later date), but I’m always sensitive when we add (permanent positions),” he said.
The city has had an inclusion co-ordinator on staff for more than a decade, mainly concentrating on issues of mobility and the growing seniors population.
“We feel the existing community inclusion co-ordinator’s workload is going to increase in the future,” said Stauth. “We took a real hard look at it and our recommendation is to hire the (new) position.”
Coun. Alison Van Dyke stated similar Indigenous outreach offices at Medicine Hat College and two city school boards have an average of two positions each.
Couns. Ramona Robins and Coun. Allison Knodel said the role includes internal human resources training and sensitive activities.
“There’s a complexity to it that requires access to city services,” said Knodel.
“I don’t feel it would be smart to turn this into a shared task (with other organizations).”
The position would be funded through reserves in the 2023-24 advise on “cultural matters,” which could expand in the future to include recent immigrants, said Stauth,
The position was a recommendation of council’s “community vibrancy committee,” which was tasked to Truth and Reconciliation recommendations.
It included in the draft of the current two-year city budget debated last December. That process however, revolved largely on the issue of staff additions. A compromise solution allowed incoming city manager Ann Mitchel, not yet hired at that point, to make a final decision.