by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent
Morinville’s council recently approved a policy that guides how members are to be selected for all boards, committees, or commissions established by Council under Provincial legislation, on February 13.
This includes membership for the Town’s Assessment Review Board (ARB), Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB), and the Morinville Public Library Board, among others.
Councillors debated the new policy in length, which was approved by a vote of four-to-one; Coun. Stephen Dafoe was the only member in opposition. Dafoe indicated in an interview, one of the reasons he voted against it was because he felt the policy included an overabundance of detail. “Frankly, [the policy] should have simply stated that each committee could and would have its own membership criteria outlined in the board or committees’ Terms of Reference,” he said.
Dafoe also noted he worries the policy could be used in the future as a means to cherry-pick certain residents for board positions, while keeping others off of them.
The Town’s Mayor, Lisa Holmes, told the Morinville News developing the membership policy is a necessary step in meeting the growing and changing needs of the community. Holmes also indicated, though she did vote for the Policy, initially she had concerns about implementation.
“I believe that it is important that Council’s expectations of committee work and time commitments are clearly communicated to potential volunteers and that a fair selection process is in place to recruit new committee members in the future, which is why I [ultimately] supported approving the policy,” remarked Holmes.
One element in which the Policy is silent is the appropriateness of councillors sitting on Boards such as the ARB or SDAB.
The Alberta government is currently updating the Municipal Government Act (MGA), and has identified this as a potential conflict of interest. A white paper released by Municipal Affairs when the MGA Review began, entitled ‘Municipal Governance,’ identifies the ability of councillors to sit on an ARB or SDAB, for example, can increase political influence over administrative decisions and create confusion related to roles and responsibilities.
The Province has since committed to amending the MGA to reflect these potential conflicts. The MGA Review website reads, “Municipal councillors will be prohibited from forming the majority of any legislated appeal board hearing panel.”
Holmes and Dafoe noted one of the reasons councillors tend to sit on local boards is because it can prove difficult to recruit volunteers.
The Town’s Legislative Officer, Jennifer Maskoske, explained once the Modernized MGA takes effect, the Town’s Policy may be changed.
The Boards/Committee/Commission Member Policy includes four themes: general member eligibility, member selection and appointment, member accountability and conduct standards, and cessation of membership.
Some of the membership criteria listed in the policy include requirements for Morinville residency, age thresholds, driver abstracts, criminal record checks, and provisions related to conflicts of interest. This section of the policy, however, states the criteria ‘may’ be used, signifying that it may or may not be required.
Administration from the Town said, to develop the Board/Committee/Commission Membership Policy, it reviewed other municipal models, such as those from the Cities of Edmonton, St. Albert, Calgary, and Fort Saskatchewan, along with those from other provinces.
According to Maskoske, no current boards/committees/commissions from Morinville were consulted by the Town in the development of the policy, but she said councillors who sit on current boards or committees were included in the development process.
Since the Board/Committee/Commission Membership Policy is just that, a policy and not a bylaw, three readings were not required for approval, but rather a single vote from Council. The administration has indicated additional supporting documents related to each of the policy themes will also be developed in the future.