by Tristan Turner
Council is wrapping up their term for the summer. They’re cleaning their lockers, recycling the old looseleaf paper they kept in their ratty binders. They’ve said goodbye to the teacher – or in their case, their former CAO. They’re ready to grill on the BBQ and catch some rays. What record have they left behind in the wake of their most recent session?
Well, it’s clear as day that outside of a few issues, it’s hard to see where they stand on anything. This council term has been one of inconsistency, and during this session, they were at their finest.
Potentially the clearest – and frankly hilarious – example of these last minute decision changes was with the still pending Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw. Here Council passed Second Reading following a slew of amendments. Most notably, they passed a motion that would keep current dog off-leash rules untouched, rescinding an ordinance in First Reading that would require residents to keep their pooches on leashes all the time.
Fair enough. But at their next meeting, Council voted to rescind their own vote to pass Second Reading. Basically calling “whoops” and restarting the process of amendments and changes. Hilariously this time, though, they passed a unanimous motion to reintroduce the previous on-leash requirement they themselves removed in a majority vote only weeks prior.
Laughable, but sure, that’s only one example, right?
Not so. In the past few weeks, in a strange twist of fate, the Morinville Community Library has received a grant from Town Council to stay open on Mondays for the summer. This grant of a few thousand dollars was given following a previous Council decision during the budget process to claw back Mondays. There, they reduced the Library’s proposed budget by $30,000.
The reality is, I’m very glad the library got this funding back. They do great work with very limited resources, and have managers that look for every savings, and genuinely care about providing an essential service to our town. This is all while their employees, who work very hard, sometimes with limited support, make laughable wages compared to nearly any library in North America.
Despite these challenges, the library dared to up their pay to almost the bare minimum required to meet the standard of a living wage in Alberta, around $15 an hour. Still disastrously less than other libraries in the province. This change, and the hiring of another salaried employee to meet the growing groups needs, as well as inflation and a need for more front desk support, resulted in a request for a funding increase of about $100,000.
What does the library get for attempting to pay their employees an almost fair wage? Cuts. $30,000 worth. Who voted for the cut? Councillor Boutestein, Councillor Putnam, Mayor Holmes and – you guessed it – Councillor Dafoe, the same councillor who weeks ago made an almost emotional appeal to his fellow councillors to restore some of the money he recently voted to cut.
All of these councillors, excluding Mayor Holmes, who was absent, voted for this new grant to keep the library open Mondays for the summer. The question is if the library wasn’t valuable enough to them then, why is it now? If they wanted to keep the library open Mondays during the summer, couldn’t they have made slightly less of a cut then, with direction to stay open on Mondays during the summer?
Yeah, they could have. But the fact that they didn’t, and on a whim decided to show their generosity months later, shows that not much thinking at all went into that decision.
Did they realize the financial realities the Library was facing? No, they didn’t. If they did, we wouldn’t be here now.
The claim has been made in the Council chambers that the intent for this cut was to put pressure on the County to kick in more than their ridiculous few thousand dollars a year, but the reality is the town is already working on developing a new relationship and inter-municipal framework with the County. Far better to go through these proper channels than playing chicken with library staff and community members who rely on their services.
There is a pattern here of the hand giveth, and taketh away, seemingly at the whims of councillors whose primary factor in making their decisions is how they happen to feel that day. Was the morning coffee cold? Look out community programing. Get a grumpy email this morning? Here comes a $30,000 cut.
The result of this Council behaviour is a Town where employees will never be sure if this year, I’ll be okay. They live in constant fear that through the next round of budgeting, maybe you’ll have cuts that make it so you can’t be open one day a week, only to have that funding spontaneously returned in the middle of the year.
This type of decision making extends out to other Town departments as well. Seemingly random proposals to cut half of the entire programming budget followed by lauding their efficiency, cutting of initiatives that councillors themselves put in the budget. A $140,000 ‘general cut’ to everything, not even knowing what is being deducted, and most recently, a return of a few thousand dollars to a budget that was cut by $30,000 less than a year ago.
Beyond budgeting, we also have a Council that voted against creating a youth council, with many of them at the time saying that they didn’t know if that was the best way to engage young people. Back then, they said that they would instead find other avenues, work to engage the whole community, and find other solutions. What has changed since then? Zero. Nilch. Nada. Vapid words that lead to a vote to prevent young people from getting more involved, with no other real solutions in sight. Yet another bold stance that was quickly forgotten, or – more likely – ignored.
It’s not necessarily all of Council either. Some are more consistent than others, and their voting record will show that, but this is a concerning general theme.
Nevermind if you agree with these decisions or not, at times this Council looks a lot like chickens running around with their heads cut off. Wait, are chickens allowed again?