Their comments came during the regular council meeting on July 13th, after local reporting on recent hot button topics such as potential service fees for leasehold properties and over a now resolved Building permit matter on an ag residence.
A recommendation from the RM’s Economic Development Committee that service fees be looked at for leasehold properties such as Rowan’s Ridge, Uhl’s Bay, Belmont and Flavel Beach and other campgrounds seems to have hit a nerve with ratepayers. When the topic came up for discussion, Councillor Craig Romanyk suggested removing campgrounds from the list after discussing the issue with Mark Strong of Rowan’s Ridge. Garry Dixon urged everything be left on the table because, he said, it was just an investigation by the administration and service fees may not even be charged.
Reeve Bob Schmidt alleged that reporting on the committee’s discussion included misinformation and was problematic because it was out before Council’s minutes. Councillor Craig Romanyk noted the discussion on the service fees brought concerns from ratepayers, with Councillor Bill McKenzie also saying he received numerous calls about the committee meeting. McKenzie noted, he is not a part of the committee and was unaware of what was discussed.
Reeve Schmidt said that Council learned a lesson, and the topic of service fees would be considered “long term strategic planning” with further discussions to be moved behind closed doors “in-camera.” The move would push the public out of Council’s discussions and further from seeing how and why Council makes their decisions.
Councillor Dixon suggested the fees could be negotiated with an agreement in advance and that it was detrimental when people read in the paper when the RM hasn’t released it in their minutes. (Minutes come out only at the next meeting and do not include discussion, only resolutions)
While the Reeve has complained about what he deems to be misinformation in reporting, Council has not shown any appetite for live streaming meetings or recording meetings for ratepayers to watch at their convenience. Recently the Council discontinued meetings via Zoom after public health regulations were removed. The RM informed the public they could observe the meeting from the basement as was done before. However, at the July 13th meeting, the door to the chambers was closed. The RM did not utilize their video capabilities to the large screen in the basement; only piping audio to the basement.
Council has also strengthened the language in their Council Procedures Bylaw not to allow recording of their meetings by the public.
Speaking to Council, Reeve Bob Schmidt referred to the Last Mountain Times as the “RM of 220 Inquirer” and said it was legally unacceptable. Councillor Whitrow asked, “Why do you read that garbage? I just throw mine in the garbage.” Bill McKenzie responded because the taxpayers are reading it.
Reeve Schmidt told Council the owner of Rowan’s Ridge approached him to discuss the service fees, and he told him nothing was happening, and he should make a submission to Council. Romanyk said he also had spoken with the owner, who is ready to go to court over the issue of service fees.
Councillor Dixon made the recommendation to accept the committee’s recommendation, which Council unanimously carried.
During Councillor’s Forum, Councillor Don Whitrow- Division 1 sarcastically thanked Council for not being as perfect as the old Council and administration, saying that the paper would have nothing to write about if they were. He then named ratepayers Leandra Cameron and Howard Arndt (also the former Reeve), saying it wouldn’t give them anything to talk about.
When Reeve Schmidt’s turn to speak during the forum arose, he brought up a now resolved ag residence permit matter. Despite the Province’s Chief Building Official’s (CBO)determination that a building permit for an agricultural residence was exempt, Council voted to require and enforce the permit.
Schmidt said that emails clarifying the situation from the CBO came only after the start of the meeting on June 22nd.
Documents show the Chief Building Officials’ June 14th determination that the Cameron’s were exempt were sent to the RM’s Building Development Officer on the same day, a full week before the RM council met. The CAO referenced the Chief Building Official’s emails several times in the June 22nd meeting when Council made the motion to approve the requirement and enforcement of the building permit.
The CAO said that the situation was cleared up after receiving a request to attend a conference call with the CBO.
Schmidt said the matter was being portrayed as the crime of the century. He said, “this happens everywhere.” And that while the permits were not something they have to have, they should.
Councillor Garry Dixon said that inspections and building permits are for people’s own protection. Councillor Gary Gilbert remarked that the RM was trying to show they care about people’s safety but were getting criticized for it, “To me, the government is treating certain people like second class citizens because they are saying we don’t care what you do. We don’t want you to be as safe as the next guy; you can just go do what you want; we don’t care. The RM comes along and says ‘we care’.”
CAO Morissette said that while farming is Saskatchewan, the province was far behind, playing catch-up with the rest of Canada and that a building permit protects buyers and sellers because it would ensure inspection.
Reeve Schmidt said the attention had made a mountain out of a molehill because there had been no harm caused to the applicants as they ended up not being charged. The CAO concluded the discussion by saying she would not be putting any more of her energy into it.
We questioned the RM’s draft minutes on the resolution. The resolution said the RM would “enforce the need for a building permit for the sunroom being constructed if it is determined necessary by Administration.” At the meeting, Councillor Garry Dixon’s exact words were, “I’ll make a resolution that this particular addition requires a building permit if for no other reason for energy efficiency code.” This was the resolution that Council voted on, nothing more.
Reeve Schmidt mentioned that the motion should be rescinded; however, the CAO said they didn’t have to because it said as “determined necessary by administration.” And because the administration had deemed it unnecessary, there was no need to rescind it.
When reviewing the minutes for accuracy, councillor Dixon said they were perfect, and Council approved the minutes with the resolution as drafted.
Now, why is this important? Well, if it were up to elected officials who feel mountains get made out of molehills, they would say it’s not; it’s a mere mistake. However, in the future, if a council’s actions needed to be reviewed for any reason, the record would not accurately reflect how this all went down. The reader would see the minutes, written as is, without a correction, and the Council’s approval as a factual representation. Details are important—details matter. If you find yourself on the wrong side of any governmental decision, you should be able to bring up what happened to tell the story accurately.
The record should accurately reflect it.
We stand behind our reporting, and hopefully, it will help fill in those gaps where the minutes do not.
Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times