It was almost business as usual as Prince Albert city council met for second and three council meetings of the month on Monday.
While six the city’s nine council members breezed through an 18 item agenda in roughly 45 minutes, city staff and members of the public watched from a rearranged gallery designed to keep attendees from sitting too close together. Of course, that was after being met at the door by a security guard holding a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Mayor Greg Dionne opened the meeting by telling those in attendance to enjoy the proceedings while they could. Council meetings will continue, he said, but the public may be barred from attending.
“At this point, we’re going to allow … the general public into the council chambers, but in the future you’ll have to check,” Dionne said during a brief opening speech. “We may close it to the public. We haven’t made that decision yet, but that’s one of the things that are on the discussion table.”
Discussion was one thing there wasn’t much of as Dionne and Couns. Terra Lennox-Zepp, Don Cody, Blake Edwards, Ted Zurakowski and Dennis Nowoselsky sped through Monday’s agenda. The third and final vote on the new Little Red River Park caretaker agreement contract was the only item to take more than 10 minutes of debate. Council voted to award the five-year contract to Shananigan’s Bistro by a 5-1 margin.
The decision to even hold Monday’s meeting was an unpopular one with at least two city council members. Both Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller and Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha urged the city to postpone the meeting, or at least hold it via telephone.
Both said they declined to attend on Monday as a precautionary measure, and want council to stop meeting in person for the near future.
“As far as I’m concerned, we can all do this via iPad,” Miller said when contacted on Tuesday. “We all have iPads. We all can tune in that way if we wish to and make our decisions like that, and if not, well, really, there’s nothing on the agenda that couldn’t have been postponed until the next city council meeting.”
“I am a healthcare worker,” added Miller, who works at Victoria Hospital. “I have to take a proactive approach on the situation and make sure that all of the citizens, including the ones that I work with every day, have safety first.”
Botha pointed to the city’s procedure bylaw, which lays down the rules for meeting that aren’t conducted in person. He said the city should at least consider holding meetings by phone, if not postponing them all together.
“Prior to (Monday’s) city council meeting I informed Mayor Dionne, city council and the City of Prince Albert’s city manager, city clerk and city solicitor that as a precautionary measure I would not be attending (Monday’s) city council meeting, and advised that we should consider the postponement of all city council and executive committee meetings for the next while,” Botha wrote in a statement. “At a critical time such as this, the health and safety of all residents should be of the utmost importance.”
The other council member who did not attend Monday’s meeting—Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick—said he had no problems meeting in council chambers.
Like Botha and Miller, Ogrodnick declined to attend Monday’s meeting as a precaution after his allergies flared up on Monday. He said it’s not COVID-19 related, and was back at work Tuesday morning.
Ogrodnick added that he didn’t want to cause any distress or alarm by appearing in public while ill. He also said it wasn’t council’s place to demand meetings be postponed or cancelled.
“I wasn’t boycotting or anything like that at all,” Ogrodnick said when contacted on Tuesday. “It’s not my call. It’s the call of the mayor and the clerk and legal and all that. It’s not my call to postpone a council meeting or an executive meeting.
“It’s my call to postpone a committee meeting that I’m a chair of, but it’s not my call to do that (with council). I leave those decisions to the people who are responsible for making those calls, and I won’t publicly challenge them or anything.”
The next council meeting is an executive committee meeting scheduled for Monday, March 23 at 4 p.m.