Mayor argues steering committee will help keep recreation centre construction on deadline

Prince Albert City Hall -- Herald file photo.

Mayor Greg Dionne says the City’s new Indoor Aquatics and Arenas project is already months behind schedule, but creating a new steering committee will help get it back on track.

Dionne made the remarks after council voted 5-4 to create the new committee following more than 20 minutes of passionate but respectful debate at a special meeting on Monday.

Dionne and city councillors Dawn Kilmer, Ted Zurakowski and Blake Edwards will sit on the committee. Gord Broda and Russ Clunie are listed as advisors. Broda and Clunie are partners in Signature Developments, the Prince Albert company overseeing the creation of a new entertainment district in the southeast corner of the city.

Committee members will be responsible for advising and updating city council on the project’s progress, providing input to architects and consultants, and reviewing reports and feedback.

“We’re four months behind schedule because of the delays with architects and stuff like that, and I hope to make it up over the next couple of meetings,” Dionne said in an interview on Monday. “There was a disconnect at the start because it was all administration (involvement) and no council (involvement). There was a disconnect … so I’m putting it back together. Administration, you work for council, and council will move the items forward.”

Dionne said the committee will create project deadlines and make sure they’re met. When asked how a steering committee would help get the project back on schedule, Dionne said smaller committees are able to work faster.

“The bigger the committee, the longer the debate, the longer the delays,” he said.

Couns. Dennis Ogrodnick, Terra Lennox-Zepp, Tony Head and Charlene Miller all voted against the proposal.

Head and Miller both said they wanted more members of the public on the committee to give it more balance. Miller told council she was glad she wasn’t on the committee because she didn’t think she had the right experience. However, some members of the public do have that knowledge, she argued, and the City should take advantage of it.

Head echoed those concerns, telling council that while he appreciated the inclusion of Clunie and Broda, but wanted the committee to include members of the public who did not have personal interests in the project.

“I get that this (committee) is unique, based on some of the decisions we made,” Head told council. “I like the fact that (final decisions) are coming back to council, so we’re going to ultimately have that final say, but I can’t agree more: we should have some public representation on there. I know we have Russ Clunie and Gord Broda, but I think there’s some personal interests there as well from them. It would be nice to have some other public engagement.”

Dionne said he considered putting members of the public on the committee, but declined because city administration has already met with community groups and organizations that will use the facility. He said that consultation will be enough for the committee to make informed recommendations.

Lennox-Zepp said administration could do the committee’s work instead, since all decisions needed final approval from council. Ogrodnick said he supported the idea of a steering committee, but believed council needed more time to determine specifics like membership appointments and committee size.

Ogrodnick told council he did not even know there would be a steering committee until he read the agenda last Thursday, and was disappointed all members of council were not asked to sit on it.

“I was just surprised,” he said after the meeting. “I’m not going to criticize anyone or anything, but it was a surprise to me.”

Couns. Blake Edwards, Ted Zurakowski, Don Cody and Dawn Kilmer all voted in favour of creating a committee.

Zurakowski and Cody were the most vocal supporters, saying a steering committee was absolutely necessary to keep the project on deadline.

“I always expected, in a project like this, that we would have a steering committee,” Cody said. “I always thought that. Maybe we weren’t told that specifically, but I certainly believed in my heart of hearts that we were going to have a steering committee, and now we have one…. We are behind with this project and we’d like to get it going, and I have no trouble with the people who are on it.”

“Really, this committee, or a committee, should have been structured a year ago,” Zurakowski. “A year ago, we should have been meeting to make some of these decisions, to steer this project moving forward, but there wasn’t, and we saw what happened over the last six months. We had to take three steps backward to take two steps forward.”

Kilmer, who was principal at Carlton Comprehensive High School when the Frank Dunn Pool was under construction. She said the steering committee helped keep that project on track, and removed unnecessary delays. She hoped that as a group, council would trust those on the committee to bring important decisions back to City Hall for final approval.

“Ultimately, the decisions come here,” Kilmer said. “A steering committee does exactly that. It steers and keeps the wheels moving, and helps administration stay on track.”