by Tristan Turner
Morinville News Correspondent
Council has passed a slew of changes to their photo radar policy, something that has become a semiannual occurrence in Morinville. The changes, which also impact an upcoming Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Town’s photo radar contractor (ITS/Global Traffic Group), mostly are intended to give both the Town/Council and the RCMP more power to dictate day-to-day photo radar operations in Town. These changes came during Council’s regular Aug. 29 meeting, where all members voted unanimously on each amendment, and the over all policy changes.
Photo radar has been a repeated topic of concern for this Council, largely from pressure to reform the program following a failed plebiscite to scrap Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) in 2014.
Proposed changes to site time allocation, technology, and operating time
A change to the program made through the MOU will be a modification to reduce the total hours photo radar operates in the contract from 40 hours a week, down to 25. This change was decided before the meeting by RCMP and Administration, but that evening Council gave direction – after being proposed by Councillor Stephen Dafoe – to only allow an increase above that 25 hours if pre-approved by the RCMP.
Councillor Dafoe also introduced a hard limitation on the amount of time contractors can spend at one site. Dafoe’s motion limits all non-school and playground zone sites to a maximum 15 per cent of their total time at any one location in any given month.
Dafoe also brought forward a change in conjunction with Mayor Lisa Holmes that will require all new non-traditional vehicle-mounted ATE technology (‘green boxes’, for example) to be approved by both Council and the RCMP before they are deployed for use in Morinville.
Another change incorporated that evening stated that the program was to receive a 90 per cent or greater score from the province when audited by the Solicitor General on the program’s compliance with provincial regulations.
Morinville RCMP head not very involved in day to day site selection: Sergeant Kendall
Sergeant Dale Kendall, head of the Morinville RCMP detachment, happened to be on hand at Council that evening to present the quarterly RCMP report but also responded to Council questions on photo radar enforcement in the town. First, Councillor Stephen Dafoe asked Kendall to clarify how much day-to-day oversight the RCMP had on selecting photo radar, saying, “The perception among the public is that it’s a bit of a cowboy show, they [the ATE contractor] go where they want when they want.”
Kendall responded saying that she does carefully advise and sign off on the selection of acceptable sites, but on a day-to-day basis, does not direct where operators should spend their time.
Mayor Holmes also noted to Kendall that it is the goal of Council in revisions to their policy that the RCMP should have a greater role in the operation of the program. She noted that discussions between Council and the RCMP would have to happen in order to determine how much capacity Kendall has to oversee the operation of photo radar.
Mayor Holmes: “It’s going to be easier to just shut down [photo radar]”
Council that evening made it clear that they felt there was a disagreement between them and administration for how the program should be operated, noting that more meetings and discussion may be required to make clear Council’s specific desires.
David Schaefer, Director of Corporate Operations with the Town, responded to most councillor proposals that evening in a way that Mayor Holmes considered to be debating Council about how the program should be operated. Schaefer has been responsible for the program for the entirety of this Council’s term, and frequent disagreements on both sides have led to conflict between Council and administration.
At one point in the evening, Councillor Rob Ladouceur said “I’m about to be really rude” in a dispute with Schaefer about a proposed amendment he was proposing to Council. Mayor Holmes interceded to mediate the discussion, getting the focus back to other proposals.
Holmes quickly expressed her own frustrations with Schaefer, however. After some back and forth debate, she commented: “It’s getting difficult because I feel like we’re debating you, and we just can’t continue to do that. In reality, at this point, it’s going to be easier to just get rid of the program than to continue to have to debate. We’re going to have to try and not do that and see if we can work through some of these concerns.”
A previous information request revealed the cost of ending the contract 18 months early would cost roughly $300,000.
Andrew Isbister, Chief Administrative Officer, acknowledged past disagreements but said he is committed to implementing Council’s vision for the policy, saying: “If Council wants to direct us to make [these changes] to the policy, that’s fine – it’s your policy.”
Isbister went on to say that they will make these changes regardless of the agreement they have in place with Global Traffic Group,
“If they’re not happy with the policy, they can send a letter to us saying they would like to drop from the program, which I will accept immediately on Council’s behalf,” Isbister said.
Isbister added “We’re the dog; they’re [the contractor] the tail. They don’t wag us.”
All proposed amendments that were put forward, and the motion itself to pass the amended policy, passed unanimously.