July 21st, 2024

Agendas back on the council agenda

By COLLIN GALLANT on March 5, 2024.

Coun. Shila Sharps put forward a procedure change Monday that would change how in-camera meeting are scheduled.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Mayor Linnsie Clark now has the power to reschedule closed-door meetings of council that lead into regular meetings, but other councillors may have that ability soon, too.

In December, Coun. Shila Sharps objected to a set start time of 3:45 p.m. for in-camera sessions to discuss sensitive material ahead of 6:30 p.m. open meetings, stating that with some meetings lasting only 20 minutes, the hours-long gap between the two was a waste of time.

On Monday, council approved a change to procedure bylaw allowing Clark to set start times in relation to the expected length, but not until the meeting’s agenda was amended to discuss a new chain of command in approving a meeting’s schedule.

“Before this council it doesn’t appear there was an agenda review committee, and being such a new council, along with mayor – and justly so – asked a lot of questions,” said Sharps following the meeting after calling for the discussion.

That new process follows a morning meeting of senior staffers on the Wednesday prior to council meetings. But that was apparently hung up last week when the mayor, deputy mayor and acting mayor (two positions that rotate) couldn’t attend the meeting in person, said Sharps.

Changes would develop a process for other councillors to step in.

“I don’t want to get into a debate about this, but I did Zoom in (via video conference) at 11 a.m.,” said Clark, who cast one of two votes against the measure.

Coun. Ramona Robins also voted against, stating she would prefer to see a survey of practice in other Alberta cities first.

The change was one of two items related to council’s operating rules on an otherwise light agenda.

Last fall, Sharp raised objections to the bylaw, which calls for council members to meet at 3:45 p.m. for closed session ahead of open session at 6:30 p.m.

Such meetings are allowed under provincial governance rules to allow for discussion of sensitive matters and receive candid opinions from administrators.

At the time, council veteran Robert Dumanowski said the practice in previous terms was to set meeting times based on the expected length of time to go through the agenda, and run up to a dinner break before the open meeting in the early evening.

However, Sharps argued the practice of scheduling a set time for in-camera meetings should stop all together.

Last summer, councillors voted to remove many of powers afforded to the mayor in a scheduled update of the procedure bylaw. That transferred authority to make appointments to council committees to a majority vote of councillors and removed the mayor’s ability to call recesses, among other measures.

Zoning change

A parcel of highway commercial land near a south-end commercial district will be changed to allow “mixed-use” developments, and specifically housing, council voted following a public hearing on Monday.

Council heard that the change for 19 Stober Bay, a two-acre lot between two existing hotels near Strachan Road, could accommodate a medium-density residential district proposal.

City planning staff stated the difference would raise relative tax assessment if an apartment or condo is built, rather than a big-box store or another hotel. That aligns with the city’s general land-use philosophy.

Councillors discussed potential sound mitigation that might be needed as the lot is near the highway, but it was passed by a 9-0 vote.

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