Kneehill County council extended another invitation to a ratepayer’s group to attend a regular council meeting and discuss issues of concern.
The invitation, which was itself a counter to the ratepayer group’s invitation to attend a public meeting, was issued at the April 13 regular meeting of council.
Councillors read a letter from the Kneehill Urban & Rural Advocacy Society (KURAS), which didn’t have a signature on it but did include a Wimborne mailing address, noting the group feels Kneehill County could be doing a better job communicating with its residents.
“Kneehill County residents and ratepayers feel that important aspects of citizen engagement and public consultation have been neglected by Kneehill County councillors,” stated the letter.
The letter quoted passages from Kneehill County’s website noting that the municipality commits to host an annual ratepayers meeting. KURAS offered a one-hour meeting April 19 at 7 p.m. that would be moderated and held virtually if necessary.
Coun. Faye McGhee stated she had “quite a few concerns” with the request.
First she stated KURAS is one of about 45 groups the county deals with and if councillors met with one specific group, then the same benefit should be offered to all, since the meeting would be county business the ratepayers would pay for councillors to attend, and KURAS has been invited to attend council meetings in the past and never attended.
McGhee stated she feels councillors do a good job of communicating with the public.
She added that if a meeting was held she’d prefer a “drop-in” style meeting where people can more easily get the information they’re looking for.
Coun. Debbie Penner agreed with McGhee, stating after the last municipal election the new council stated citizen engagement was a priority and she feels that’s been done as the council is open to the public.
Penner stated she didn’t feel attending the KURAS meeting was necessary.
Coun. Wade Christie agreed and said KURAS should come to a public council meeting as a delegation.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen stated the county usually limits delegations to 15 minutes per presentation, but can allow a group to present for as long as it wishes.
He noted in his memo to council that ratepayer meetings have been affected by the pandemic.
“Council communicates with the community in several different ways and at different levels, depending upon the intent of the communication and level of engagement being conducted,” stated Haugen.
“Council has held ratepayer meetings in the past, most recently in 2019 when two events were held in Trochu and Acme.
Council planned on holding similar events in Torrington and Carbon in 2020, but due to COVID concerns and restrictions these events were cancelled.
“Council’s approved 2021 budget includes provisions for holding ratepayer meetings dependent upon COVID restrictions. Other formats are also being explored based on the projection of continued COVID restrictions.”
Coun. Glen Keiver stated he feels ratepayer meetings seem to have become obsolete as it seems easy for people to find out what’s happening at council. Keiver added the KURAS meeting seemed like an unnecessary expense.
Reeve Jerry Wittstock noted delegations can appear at council in-person or virtually. Wittstock added that invites to meetings will be complicated until the pandemic is over.
Coun. Ken King stated, after reading the letter, he got the impression KURAS doesn’t feel the county’s efforts at engagement meet the requirements for public contact, but he feels the county is very open and approachable as large amounts of information about council meetings are available.
King stated he agreed with McGhee that if council meets with KURAS, they should offer the same benefit to every other group. King added that KURAS should be invited to come to council as a delegation for up to an hour if they wish.
McGhee stated an hour is too long, noting she would require an explanation of why KURAS needed an hour at a council meeting.
King responded the group should state how long they need at a council meeting and why that time was necessary.
CAO Haugen noted KURAS has been invited to appear at council before.
Councillors unanimously agreed to decline KURAS’ invitation and instead invite the ratepayers group to appear as a delegation at a future council meeting.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review