Last week + GPFC October 14, 2019
I had a full week booked before a family emergency stopped everything in their tracks on Sunday night. Special thanks to Mayor Heron for the quick phone call prior to the marathon meetings on Monday, and to everyone who helped cover this week with work, kids, and the dog!
Internal Audit Steering Committee: After one committee member had to pull out at the last minute, I did attend this meeting so we could have quorum. The auditors presented their findings about the first part of the engagement about risk; Administration is in agreement with their findings. Council will be presented with the results along with Admin’s action plan. Next steps will include reviewing the findings of the second part of the audit engagement, regarding procurement. Committee appointments were confirmed Monday, so the Council reps going forward will be Councillors Hughes and Brodhead.
I also watched the recording of Monday’s meeting, and have been following up on a few questions. I look forward to jumping back in full-throttle after the weekend.
GPFC agenda highlights
Public Art Advisory Committee Bylaw
This item stems from my motion that passed almost a year ago that had the intent of replacing our existing ad hoc administrative-level public art committee with one that has a direct relationship with Council.*
Administration has prepared a draft bylaw that would form the new committee, dissolve the existing ad hoc committee (I think - this is unclear), and set a mandate for the new committee to:
Make recommendations to Council regarding Public Art (selecting new art, dealing with existing art, etc.). (No change from current committee, except the recommendations are going to Council rather than Admin.)
“Develop a communication plan to educate the public about the benefits that Public Art brings to the community”. (I’ll move to have this removed - this is an administrative duty.)
Review (rewrite?) the current Public Art policy. (All our committees do this periodically.)
One of the comments in the backgrounder is that “a possible option is to bring together other art and cultural development programs, including funding and recognition programs”. It sounds like Admin prepared an alternate bylaw if we go this route, but I’m still tracking that down. I’ll be exploring this further in my comments on Tuesday:
The committee should be named “Arts Advisory Committee” rather than the more specific “Public Art”.
This committee should make recommendations regarding Arts awards, like what the Community Services Advisory Committee (CSAC) does for social services awards and the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) does for environment-related awards.
This committee should make recommendations regarding awarding grant funding for arts organizations and arts events, like what the CSAC and EAC does.
As the current process for public engagement is… murky and expensive… the committee should make recommendations about improving transparency as it relates to the public art selection process.
This committee should make recommendations about the weighing of factors in selecting a public art proposal submitted through an RFP process; These factors should be made public.
This committee should make recommendations about situations where a direct contract award would be more appropriate than an RFP process.
I’m also going to move to have the section specifying that the committee must report “how the funds for Public Art have been used during that year” because it’s Admin who administers public art projects, not the committee; The committee selects the projects/budget, but isn’t involved in how that budget is spent. For example: For the Migration opening, we hired musicians, performers, and a cinematographer - I assume the committee had nothing to do with that, but the cost should still be reported as related to public art budgets.
* I’m confident that the current volunteers in the Public Art Committee are talented and committed public servants, but Council has no knowledge of them and, through no fault of their own, details of their meetings are not provided to Council or to the public. For a committee that is so important, they have surprisingly little visibility - I would like to see them acknowledged for the service they provide!
Annual Review of Financial Policies
Every year, we review Council financial policies. Admin recommendations for updates are based both on changing best-practices and Council motions that affect financial policies. This review is made easier because our Director of Finance and her team are fabulous. My only question right now is a section that says that kids 6 & under ride the bus for free, but communication about our free local tickets for students implies that kids under 12 are free, which is why they aren’t part of the pilot.
Review of Council Governance
Last spring, Council directed Admin to look at our governance structure with consideration for the number of meetings and the resulting impact on Council & staff; Some of their findings include:
We hold more Council meetings than most municipalities our size; Most have a maximum of two/month.
Council meetings are very resource-intensive; Staff are essentially in a constant state of prepping for/attending/following-up on meetings, which means they have less time to focus on running the city.
Because the public doesn’t see our detailed agendas until the Friday before our Monday meetings, they don’t have much time to prepare a response if they want to provide input to Council.
Although we have 8 citizen advisory committees (9 if the Art Committee is approved), we have vey little contact with them - we don’t see their agendas/minutes and their advice rarely makes it to Council. (I would argue that the CSAC and EAC are exceptions because they specifically recommend grant/award decisions.)
For the most part, committees don’t really have a mandate, so both committee members and Council aren’t confident about their purpose. (Again, I would argue that their are a couple exceptions.)
Possible alternatives to the current structure include:
Reducing Council meetings to two/month.
Replacing the once/month GPFC with two once/month standing committee meetings; Have “recommendations to Council” as a standing item in Council meetings so we can act quickly on recommendations.
Hold committee meetings in the Douglas Cardinal Boardroom. (We just changed this at the request of the public!)
“Streamline the Citizen Committee structure by re-casting some existing Citizen Committees as sub-committees reporting up to a Citizen Committee with a broader mandate”.
On a related note, Councillor Hansen has proposed specific changes (23!), which include:
Reducing Council meetings to two/month, starting at 1pm instead of the current 3pm.
Replace the once/month GPFC with two once/month standing committee meetings; Councillors would only sit on one of the committees, each with a different portfolio. Portfolio 1 would include “the built and natural environments, social and cultural matters, and housing” and Portfolio 2 would be “municipal infrastructure, economic development and growth (including land planning issues other than expropriation) and transportation/transit”.
“Councillors… on Citizens Committees shall not be required or expected to attend at every meeting of their Citizens Committee, but will be available if needed top ensure quorum…”
Citizen Committees will all prepare an annual report detailing their activities to be presented to Council.
Councillor Hansen’s motion doesn’t address the Admin comment that we could reduce the number of citizen committees, or the fact that most don’t have a clear mandate. Also, a related 2013 report also recommended that we vote on information requests. I’ll bring these up for discussion.
This is a brief high-level overview of our meetings, with my personal comments sprinkled in - In no way are my opinions representative of the official direction of council or the City of St. Albert. Please let me know of any typos or errors. As always, I also encourage everyone who is able to tune in the the live-stream of the meeting (1pm here) or attend in-person (3rd floor of St. Albert Place, hang a right getting out of the elevator). You can also register to speak if you have information to present to council. Full agenda packages can be found on the stalbert.ca website.