Prince Albert city council rejected a request to discuss the fence surrounding the Margo Fournier Centre lawn during Tuesday’s executive committee meeting.
Council voted 5-4 against an amendment from Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp that would have added the item to Tuesday’s agenda. Lennox-Zepp said she was disappointed council didn’t get a chance to discuss the issue, especially since city administration erected the fence without council’s consent.
“I think there’s real value in debating the topic, regardless of what side of the issue you’re on,” she said during an interview on Thursday. “I think that the public expects us as a council to be able to debate topics, regardless of whether you’re yes or no…. The fact that council did not vote to even have a debate on it, I think that does not meet public expectations.”
Lennox-Zepp previously request to have the item added to the executive committee meeting agenda. She said the agenda review committee declined to do so.
Councillors have three different methods for getting an item on a regular council meeting agenda before it’s released to the public—notice of motions, inquiries and requests during the mayor and councillors’ forum.
Lennox-Zepp said she hasn’t decided whether to pursue any of these avenues to get the item on a future agenda. She’s waiting to hear from her constituents before making a decision.
Mayor Greg Dionne blocked Lennox-Zepp’s motion from being added to the agenda as a friendly amendment, meaning council had to vote on whether or not to add it.
In an interview on Thursday, Dionne said residents had all the information they needed, so there was no need to discuss the issue further.
“We’ve answered all the questions,” he said. “It was an issue of safety for staff in our building. Do I like it? Absolutely not, but it is a short-term solution and it worked.”
City administration built a fence around the Margo Fournier Centre lawn in mid-August after city employees complained about unsafe working conditions. At the time, City Manager Jim Toye said as many as 50 people were gathering on the property’s east side lawn to heckle and harass city employees. He also said there was evidence of extensive drug use.
The problem became so bad that some city employees with offices in the building asked to work out of City Hall instead. The move generated strong criticism from anti-poverty advocates, who said the City should address homelessness, mental health and drug addiction in the community, rather than build a temporary fence. Dionne said the city doesn’t have the funds to tackle those problems by itself.
However, that doesn’t mean the fence is here to stay. Dionne wants the City to install a timed underground sprinkler system on the Margo Fournier lawn. He said keeping the grass wet will keep people from congregating and gathering in the area, and he plans to make it a budget item this fall.