Original Published on Sep 21, 2022 at 19:23
By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Policies and procedures are really the nuts and bolts of municipal governance, and though the subject may not be the most exciting reading material it is important in the day-to-day management of any municipality.
Crowsnest Pass council discussed a handful of policy updates during the Aug. 23 regular council meeting. The policies were updated by administration to reflect current best practices and to separate the respective procedures into separate documents.
Though council reviews and approves municipal policies, procedures are ultimately the responsibility of the CAO and are created and approved without the need for a council vote.
Several policy updates were proposed: the encroachment policy, which is largely determined by the Municipal Government Act and sets conditions on when property encroachments are permitted; and the compliance certificate policy, which confirms buildings and properties are up to code for institutions that request the information for loans.
Three other updates approved were the area structure plan policy, which helps the municipality provide consistency in the preparation and processing of submitted area structure plans; the sidewalk and street patio policy, which establishes a framework for the municipality to evaluate applications for street patios on public sidewalks and streets; and the disposal of municipal lands and reserves, which outlines how municipal property and reserved land can be sold.
Administration’s suggestion to separate the procedure from the policy outlining land sales prompted discussion from council members.
In general, Mayor Blair Painter said he was opposed to separating administration’s procedures from the respective policy documents because it was useful for council to know how policies were implemented.
“I don’t know about anybody else on council, but I get asked the procedures,” he said. “What we’ve pulled out here are some really critical ones, in my opinion, for letting council know what the procedures are that administration is going to do to resolve them. It’s nice to know what has to happen for this process — it’s nice to know we did check all the boxes off.”
Part of the problem with publishing municipal procedures, said CAO Patrick Thomas, is the sheer volume of information that would have to be presented.
“There’s hundreds of standard operating procedures, everything from how we take a sample at the sewer plant, how we change a tire — everything has a procedure of how they’re done,” he said. “Where does council want to draw the line?”
“I’m not concerned about the procedure of how to take a sample at the sewer plant,” replied Mayor Painter, “but when it comes to the disposal of municipal lands and reserves I do have a concern on how that process is handled.”
The procedures for compliance certificates and the area structure plan, Painter added, should also be publicly available in the policy documents.
Other council members disagreed.
“Ninety-eight per cent of the time, Blair, I disagree with you on that — we don’t need to know the procedures,” said Coun. Dean Ward. “But on this one here [the municipal land sale], because of the contentiousness — I look at Dairy Road, for example, what we’ve gone through — I would like to have access to the procedure.”
“This one is a hot-button issue, it comes up every time we sell a piece of land,” he continued. “To me, they don’t have to be stapled together — they just need to be, in some way, accessible to us so that when I get that phone call from that person that tries to argue with me about procedure on the Dairy Road sale, I’ve got somewhere to reference.”
However, setting a precedent for council getting too involved in procedure, said Coun. Glen Girhiny, would cause more problems than it would solve.
“I think we’re just setting ourselves up for failure there, because now we have a rigid set of rules that might not necessarily apply down the road,” he said. “Obviously there has to be faith in administration that they do it the same all the time or according to circumstance.”
In regard to selling the land along Dairy Road in Bellevue, he added, the main issue he felt residents had was the proposed development rather than the process of sale.
“The reaction from the public was not that we sold it, the reaction from the public was that they didn’t want what we wanted to put there,” Girhiny continued.
“We were elected by the constituents of the area to run the municipality the best way we think going forward — the NIMBYism and protectionism that is displayed by our population should not reflect our decisions.”
Coun. Doreen Glavin, on the other hand, said increasing public participation in the process would be an improvement.
“Whereabouts does the public fit into having a say? Because we’re getting hit hard by this also out there. The public has no participation — but I understand that we can’t do that until after it’s sold,” she said.
“I think the public should be more involved with our land sales. It’s their land.”
“But we were elected to be their stewards,” replied Coun. Lisa Sygutek, adding that it’s not council’s job to give information to residents they can look up themselves.
“The ignorance on a person’s part is not our problem. If somebody is a go-getter and looks it up and finds out that there’s a parcel and puts a bid in, that’s not our fault,” Coun. Sygutek continued.
“That’s not a lack of information, that’s somebody being a go-getter versus somebody who sits in their room being ignorant and bitches after the fact. I don’t think that’s an argument.”
Council eventually voted in favour of updating the identified policies and separating the documents from their procedures. An additional motion for administration to schedule an information session with council members to go over the procedure of land sales was also passed.