Column: Council ends session with a record of inconsistency

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?

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  1. If we had a mayor that attended all the council meetings (or atleast 90%) and provided leadership to the rest of the members, perhaps there would be more consistency and better decision making. Instead we are left to deal with delayed and incredibly poor decisions.

    • My attendance is a non-issue. Minutes for all Council meetings are on the town’s website, but I’ll fact check it for you and save you the time. In my almost 6 years on Council, there has been 104 Council meetings and I’ve missed 6. 1 – Vacation, 3 – Family commitments, 1 – Federal Advocacy trip in Ottawa and 1 – taking a course out of town that was booked before we added in the extra meeting.

  2. Amazing article, hope it makes people reconsider where to cast their ballot next election. As for the cuts to budget and rather lousy attitude towards Morinvilles youth, here’s to hoping that a certain few of our councillors and by extension the mayor get the opportunity to show themselves to the door. We need a forward thinking, community (which includes our youth) driven council who will WORK for Morinville, who will make this town an even better place to live in that will attract more people to live here.

  3. If Mr. Turner were as passionate with his facts as he were with his passion for libraries and youth, this might have been a slightly different column. 🙂 (That’s a friendly jab he’ll no doubt chuckle at).

    While the central premise of inconsistency is an accurate and more than fair dart to lob, particularly the Animal Control Bylaw (which I’ve described as a cluster cluck) I think some of the other comments deserve clarification.

    One – libraries. Council had to make some tough budget decisions. One of those that passed was to only grant the library $73000 of the additional $103000 they asked for on top of the $300,000 and facility the community already provide. Though a comment may have been made by someone regarding the County’s contribution at that time, the decision to only grant three quarters of the added request was budgetary and not to put the pressure on.

    As to the closing Mondays – that was the library board’s choice based on the funds granted. Council cannot under the Libraries Act have any say in that matter. The library could have, for example, opened earlier or closed later.

    To imply that the library being open daily was not important then and important now or that my subsequent motion to find some dollars to open it on Mondays now is inconsistent is inaccurate.

    Budgets are set and worked, and sometimes there are efficiencies found while they are being put in play. Feeling that was the case this year, I was certain we could find the $4500 I investigated with the library manager would be needed to cover the summer. Failing that, I offered two other possibilities that would have cost my colleagues either their time or their money.

    If Mr. Turner feels my passion for libraries is non existent, he need only inquire of the time and money I have personally donated to the library before or since my motion.

    Being elected means sometimes having to make tough decisions for people and causes you care about and favourable decisions for those you don’t. That is the disinterest and impartiality that comes with the job, and my decision to only grant a portion of the requested increase was among the toughest decisions I’ve made. But I would make it again today if I had to make it again under the same circumstances.

    Having been a board member for five years, chair for 2.5 and on Northern Lights Library System Board as long as I’ve been on Council as executive and currently Vice Chair, there is no lack of love for our understanding of the importance of libraries. To say otherwise is an utter lack of understanding of who I am.

    With respect to the Youth Council. Council did not vote against it. First reading is as far as it got. I won’t speak for the others on this as some of what you say was certainly said. At Committee of the Whole, I offered my stance that I did not believe it should be by bylaw, but I’d say the same for a seniors council. I’m all in favour of councils, committees or whatever one wants to call them for a variety of purposes. The more community involvement we have the easier it is to make informed decisions.

    There are several members of this Council, including Councillor FitzGerald who support that concept. Councillors Turner and Boutestein have also been advocating for more committees pretty much since day one.

    But in my opinion, they need to be struck with a terms of reference, and if there is to be a bylaw, a terms of reference should be struck first so we can clearly articulate what the role of the group shall be.

    It is up to the person who brought the idea forward to put the idea back on the table for debate. I welcome that, as I’m certain the other members of Council do as well.

    So far that has not been done.

    In closing, good to see a columnist taking an honest look at Council’s track record. Journalism is not merely about reporting the details, it is about interpreting those details with an eye to making the elected accountable. Well done.

  4. Councillor Dafoe, damage control like that is something normally attributed to high ranking American politicians. As entertaining as it is to see a municipal politician set the record straight, I’d much rather see it coming from the likes of Hilary Clinton. Furthermore, not really professional to do that kind of thing on your own news website. I particularly found the following excerpt to be quite offensive:”If Mr. Turner were as passionate with his facts as he were with his passion for libraries and youth”, you might as well have said, “Gee Mr. Turner, thats cute and all but clearly have your head firmly lodged up your butt, I’ll do the the manly thing and set out all the politics in a clear and easy way for you potatoes to understand (smily face/ winking face) “. I dont think Ive ever seen a newspaper publicly insult one of their own journalists, let alone the owner.

  5. I agree with Tristan, in that from the outside looking in, Council has had some difficult challenges and even tougher decisions to make since being elected and has not been consistent. However, simply sitting through the meetings doesn’t give someone the full scope of what is going on behind the scenes, a full view of councillors’ biases or pet projects, or the pressures that are put on them from both outside and within the organisation. Personally, I think the idea to slow down on the recreation centre was a good one. Once it is built, it is too late to say we couldn’t afford it. As for the CAO story, there is always more to it than we can be told due to labour laws.

    I sat on the Library Board with Stephen for pretty much his whole tenure and I can attest to his exceptional level of commitment, and that his love and support of the library, staff and the work the Board did were never in doubt. He was always there and gave in many ways with his time, money and advocacy. We would not have the wonderful refurbished space that we have today without Stephen’s and many other people’s hard work and commitment. He was a strong leader when the Board needed one and is 100% correct in that the Board made the decision on how to deal with the reduction to their budget ask. They had a difficult problem and dealt with it the best way that they could. If you think they were wrong, join the Library Board.

    Have there been inconsistencies? Yes. Has there been some concerns about what to fund and what they choose to fund and what to let go? Yes. Has there been full attendance by the Mayor and others? I don’t go, so I don’t know. All I do know is that the job isn’t as simple as it may look or seem. Making a decision and sticking to it in the face of your neighbours’, friends’ and taxpayers’ comments and criticism takes courage. Realising that you may have made the wrong decision and try to correct it takes even more. Granted, it would seem easier to not make the decision in the first place, but we are people and people have thoughts and emotions that, after reflection, don’t justify the actions. I don’t agree with everything Council does, but knowing many of them personally from their time on the Library Board, I think that they do the best that they can. Some do it better than others. If others can do it better, then I recommend running in the next election and tell everyone how they will do it better. You can bet that there will be many people in the wings and Sobeys to tell you when they think that you got it wrong.

  6. I would like to thank Councillor Dafoe for setting the record straight in this article and I do not think it is wrong that Councillor Dafoe speaks with his Councillor hat on and not as the owner of the paper. He has been extremely careful in keeping the two roles separated. For one, I believe that Councillor Dafoe is one of the few who keeps the public informed. Just my opinion.

  7. Dear “Obscure Guy…”:

    It is indeed unfortunate that for one with such a large orifice in the middle of your face, you:

    a. obviously have spent little to NO time getting to know your Council;

    b. just as obviously have spent little or no time attending Council Meetings or any of the many Open Houses which discussed the various topics; and

    c. definitely lack the intestinal fortitude to sign your name to your “comment”… which in itself would usually cause me (and many others) to simply ignore your banality. However, since this be the “Dog Days of Summer” I couldn’t.

    At any rate – Have a nice day!

    Good job Tristen – keep at ‘er amigo.

    James O’Brien

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