Councillor defends decision to walk out of Monday special meeting

Updated with statements from Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski. — 4:55 p.m., March 24

Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards has released a statement defending his decision to walk out of Monday’s special city council meeting.

Edwards was one of five city councillors in attendance, and the second to leave the chamber during a series of motions from Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp. Edwards’ absence forced Mayor Greg Dionne to halt the meeting for lack of quorum.

In a lengthy statement released Tuesday afternoon, Edwards said council was told city administrators were looking into any financial hardships the City and its residents would face. He said any decisions that impacted city finances should not have been made at that meeting.

“The negative impacts of COVID-19 will be large for all people in the city. There will be big decisions to be made in the near future that will affect individuals, families (and) seniors, as well as small and large businesses,” Edwards wrote. “Last night was not the time to watch one councillor grandstand by bringing motions forward that we all knew would be defeated. The purpose of those motions was to make one individual look good and the rest look as if we do not care. Despite all of us having the prior knowledge of the negative impacts these motions would have for our city has a whole, the councillor moved forward.”

Lennox-Zepp made four motions on Monday before Edwards left the chamber. They called for the city to stop disconnecting utilities for unpaid bills, stop collecting on accounts in arrears, start holding all future council meetings electronically, provide compensation for self-isolating city employees, and providing five-days paid leave for city employees trying to make healthcare arrangements.

All four motions died on the floor without a seconder. Lennox-Zepp was about to read a fifth motion when Edwards walked out.

In an interview after the meeting, Lennox-Zepp said Prince Albert needed to be more proactive in its COVID-19 response. She said councils in Saskatoon and Regina were taking similar measures, and Prince Albert city council missed an opportunity by not doing the same.

Edwards rejected that notion, saying city council needed to look at what works best in Prince Albert, not what works best in other cities.

“We are not Saskatoon and Regina,” he wrote. “If council chose to approve the motions presented, the city would be set back immediately and it would be even more difficult to recover. That was not something I was going to stand for.

“Had there been further discussions (Monday) night, there would have been things said that should not have been said publicly and that is why I chose to leave the meeting. I am a team player, like many other council members, not selfishly looking for the limelight, especially in these dire times.”

Edwards added that it was important to get input from city administrators and employees to make the best possible decision. He also encouraged Prince Albert residents to call him personally if they had any concerns.

“Those people are who I base my decisions on, not Saskatoon or Regina,” he wrote.

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowkski was the first councillor to walk out of Monday’s special meeting. He echoed Edwards’ comments in a statement of his own issued late Tuesday afternoon.

“This is not a time for grandstanding,” Zurakowski wrote. “It’s a time to roll up the sleeves and do the hard, serious work that’s needed. We are all worried about the impact of COVID-19 and what that means for our city. We saw a few days ago with the provincial response to Regina, what happens when a city steps outside its lane.”

Zurakowski added that he was pleased to see council support a motion that allows city employees to stay home without a doctor’s note. However, he said council needs more information before making major decisions.

“Clearly there are many more issues to resolve. Each one requires thoughtful exploration of the required research,” he wrote. “There are and will be people and businesses affected by this pandemic. I believe the City will do what it can, within its powers, as time goes on, to lessen its effect.”

Full statement issued by Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards to the Daily Herald:

Last night, there was a special city council meeting called to deal with one item that needed to move forward and that was dealing with the upcoming civic election in November 2020.  The agenda was simple. 

As part of the special meeting, our Mayor was also going to give a brief statement on COVID-19.

Prior to the special council meeting, there was an in camera meeting, in which specifics cannot be discussed.  However, I will tell you that the outcome of that discussion told ALL of us present that city administration are looking into ALL aspects of possible financial shortfalls and other hardships that the City Corporation and residents of our city will face in light of COVID-19. 

What we ALL should have taken from that in camera discussion, is that any decisions that may impact the finances of the city, should NOT be made IMMEDIATELY. 

The negative impacts of COVID-19 will be large for ALL people in the city.  There will be big decisions to be made in the near future that will affect individuals, families, seniors as well as small and large businesses.  Last night, was not the time to watch one councillor grandstand by bringing motions forward that we all knew would be defeated.  The purpose of those motions was to make one individual look good and the rest, look as if we do not care.   Despite all of us having the prior knowledge of the negative impacts these motions would have for our city as a WHOLE, the councillor moved forward. 

One would think that after a few of the motions died for lack of a seconder, you would stop because you are not making progress, but no, last night was about one individual councillor. 

All motions were based on what Saskatoon and Regina have done.  WE ARE NOT Saskatoon and Regina.  If council chose to approve the motions presented, the city would be set back IMMEDIATELY and it would be even more difficult to recover. That was not something I was going to stand for. 

Had there been further discussions last night, there would have been things said that should not have been said publicly and that is why I chose to leave the meeting.  I am a team player, like many other council members, NOT selfishly looking for the limelight, especially in these dire times. 

We have to listen to our team of administration and professional employees and work together to make the best decisions for ALL citizens of Prince Albert. 

I welcome any person living in the city of Prince Albert to call me directly about the issues we face together as a community, as those people are who I base my decisions on, not Saskatoon and Regina. 

Full statement issued by Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski

This pandemic is moving quickly and is an exceptional situation. It requires flexibility of response and I appreciate the leadership from our provincial and federal governments. 

This is not a time for grandstanding. It’s a time to roll up the sleeves and do the hard, serious work that’s needed. We are all worried about the impact of COVID-19 and what that means for our city.  We saw a few days ago with the provincial response to Regina, what happens when a city steps outside its lane. 

I was pleased yesterday that my Council colleagues supported my motion to pause the requirement for sick notes from city employees. Requiring a sick note is counter productive at this time. It requires a sick person to go into a waiting room with other patients, all with immune issues. 

We also passed a motion that makes it easier to declare a “municipal” state of emergency. 

While there are many more issues to deal with moving forward, these decisions get us through the next couple of weeks. 

Clearly there are many additional issues to resolve. Each one requires thoughtful exploration of the required research. 

There are and will be people and businesses affected by this pandemic. I believe the city will do what it can, within its powers, as time goes on, to lessen its effect. 

Keep safe folks.

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