Prince Albert city manager Jim Toye says administration would try to do things differently if they could redo the City of Prince Albert’s recent property swap with the PAGC.
Toye said the consultation process, which involved meetings with residents on May 28 and June 5, could have been handled better. However, he also said city administration’s hands are tied when it comes to revealing information about land sales and property swaps, like the one which saw the PAGC acquire the Parkland Recreation Centre and lot in exchange for Angus Mirasty School and lot.
“This was a very delicate one,” Toye said following Monday’s city council meeting.
Toye and the administration faced strong criticism over how the plan was communicated, particularly over whether a deal was already in place. There were also concerns about the the decision to put the land swap item on the agenda just five days after the last consultation meeting.
During Monday’s council meeting, Toye apologized for how they handled the consultation, but said the quick turnaround was more of a perfect storm, and not an attempt to mislead the public.
Toye said PAGC approached the city about swapping properties, so the process was not a traditional public tender. The proposal was supposed to become public earlier in the year, however delays during those discussions kept that from happening. Toye said those delays were out of the city’s control.
“These things are in camera until such time as the mayor feels comfortable that they are to go to city council, once they are prepared and he is of the opinion that they are prepared,” Toye said. “That is traditionally how we do land deals.”
City administrators then placed the deal on the June 10 city council agenda because the PAGC wanted to start programing at Parkland as soon as possible.
“There were a lot of irons to work out in this fire,” Toye said. “There were other things going on with improvements to that facility and who was going to be responsible for them. We had the surfacing of the (outdoor) ice arena. We were working something out with the paving consultant at that time. Also, the skateboard ramps were coming in. We wanted to make sure that was there before we handed it over to another company or another partner.”
He added that in the future consultations, administration will give at least 10-14 days between the final public meeting and the vote at City Hall. The City of Prince Albert does not currently have a policy regarding how quickly items can be placed on the agenda following a public meeting.
Mayor Greg Dionne said Toye had “nothing to apologize for” during Monday’s meeting, a position he reiterated afterwards.
“Sometimes you get those personal agendas and you can’t avoid them,” Dionne explained. “(Some councillors) have a certain opinion. They think that the city should own and run everything, yet when it comes to budget, we cut everything and we all want to stay under two per cent. You can’t do that if you own and operate everything.”
Councillors who opposed the deal, like Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp, argued that council was not doing its due diligence when it came to the land swap. Lennox-Zepp said she trusted the PAGC to run Parkland, but remained uncomfortable with the rushed timeline, among other things.
“Five days for the general public to be aware of this is absolutely outrageous and very unusual,” she said. “We normally hear especially large issues such as this at executive committee, then after executive committee, members of the public become more aware … and then we make a better decision.”