On the agenda were four items that would seem to require significant discussion, but in what might be a record, it took councillors just over 10 minutes to make motions on all four items before adjourning.
The CAO said the first three items that were on the agenda (the grader purchase, purchasing of a ratepayer messaging service and Spring Bay Budget) “were a result of a discussion relating to the 2021 Operating and Capital Budget.”
It would be pretty difficult for ratepayers and the public to see how this all played out when any discussion or debate didn’t occur at this meeting in the public forum.
The RM of McKillop’s Code of Ethics speaks to Council conducting business and their duties openly and transparently and their accountability for those decisions.
“The cost of the All-Net Connect is $3,995.00 per year. A contract has not yet been executed but will be upon receipt and Council approval.” – Brandi Morissette CAO.
The RM has come under increased scrutiny with its willingness for transparency and accountability after several notable actions the RM has made over the last year.
In what appeared to be a threat to withhold advertising, the RM sent a June 2020 letter to the Last Mountain Times after several letters were published by former RM councillors critical of the current Council’s actions.
The motion in the minutes directing the CAO to send the letter read, “...direct Administration to send a letter to the Last Mountain Times regarding the articles being published that are detrimental to the RM and our advertising in the paper.”
The publication continued to allow submissions from the public and continued reporting on the RM’s issues. The last public notice advertising by the RM in the LMT was in December 2020.
In December of 2020 Council passed a bylaw restricting the public from recording public meetings. Councillor Dixon said on recordings, “It’s just that when people use it against you, then it’s non-submissible.” He also said, “I’m not in favour of the world, knowing what little old McKillop is doing.”
When the Council voted to strengthen restrictions to recording meetings, Schmidt voted in favour of it.
Most notably, the RM is undertaking a significant public consultation process that will determine the RM’s future direction. The RM has not published the notice in the local paper, which has a mixture of email digital and paper subscriptions to nearly 5,000 subscribers. The RM has posted a notice of a workshop through their email list, a newsletter and on their webpage. Members of the public who aren’t reachable that way and depend on their notices through the local paper will not be informed and will miss out on being a part of that process.
At the bottom of the “budgetary items” was an agenda item for ASL Extraction. Contradicting Reeve Schmidt’s earlier claims that ASL had enough material at the site, Schmidt now said ASL had made a verbal request to access aggregate outside the RM’s required setbacks because it wasn’t enough for what they needed for the project. These setbacks appear to have significantly limited where the company could gather their required material.
There was no discussion when the agenda item came up, just straight to Councillor Garry Dixon’s motion. Dixon said they should stick with the contract and that if ASL wants to change it, they can resubmit a new proposal with the setback and that he wanted proof there would be no environmental impact and no impact on adjacent lands. How ASL will meet this unknown standard of proof for the RM remains to be seen.
The RM only disclosed that the Council met with ASL the day before after LMT pressed them on why there was no discussion and asked if Council had met prior. The CAO responded that “Some of the Council members met with ASL representatives yesterday afternoon at the request of ASL, this was the motion passed as result of that meeting.” The disclosure begs the question of how many other meetings have been occurring outside of the public’s view.
ASL seems to be at a disadvantage with the RM. They appear boxed-in by a Council tangled in their weeds. The Council doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to finalize a road servicing agreement with the Saskatchewan company that needs aggregate for the sub-base for the Provincial Highway 322/220 project and also a road servicing agreement to haul the material from the excavation site to the project site.
The RM maintains their actions centre around their concerns for the RM’s roads from potential damage caused by the hauling and environmental concerns.
Road servicing agreements aren’t a new concept; they are standard and exist to address damage to roads caused by hauling. Performance bonds aren’t common. However, ASL immediately agreed to the RM’s request for a $200,000 bond over and above standard conditions of a road maintenance agreement. Despite these efforts on behalf of the company to provide assurances to the RM that ensure the company will return the roads to their former condition, it still doesn’t appear to be enough.
Reeve Bob Schmidt has previously mused in the public meetings that the RM has a great relationship with the company. It’s hard to see how that could be the case when they have come up against what seems to be a never-ending series of roadblocks from the Council.
The company still does not have its road agreement, and the RM said they have no updates regarding the agreement. ASL was contacted for comment and did not respond by publication.
A purchase of a new grader for a cost of $270,000.00 after a trade-in. Council passed a motion approving the purchase.
Organized Hamlet of Spring Bay 2021 Budget
Council did not approve the proposed budget for the organized hamlet of Spring Bay as they said it wasn’t in line with practices and procedures and gave them 30 days to resubmit. What was the problem with the budget as presented? Who knows? The ratepayers don’t.
When councillors meet outside of council meetings and complete most of their debate and discussion during those non-public meetings, the people who seem to be at the greatest disadvantage are the ratepayers. The ability to see how the Council operates allows stakeholders to ask questions and hold their elected officials accountable for their actions, usually at the ballot box.
Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times