Meeting of the minds

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne speaks during a Ward 6 Neighbourhood Meeting in February 2017. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

City council members are considering a few changes to the Neighbourhood Ward Meeting projects that were held across the city throughout the past few years.

The meetings gave residents the opportunity to voice their concerns to department heads and the city’s elected officials.

While city administrators say the meetings, which were held three times in each ward, were successful in helping them identify specific problems. However, they remain worried about “meeting fatigue.”

In a proposal presented during Monday’s executive committee meeting, city planning director Craig Guidinger suggested they move away from the ward based meeting schedule to a project-based system. The proposal would see fewer regularly scheduled meetings unless there was a particular idea up for debate.

Guidinger said meetings were well attended, although numbers started to decrease as they went on.

“Even over the course of those three meetings, attendance fell off a little bit, but there was certainly some dedicated individuals who showed up from each ward and provided some great dialogue,” he explained. “I do not want to minimize that. What we’re proposing is a staggered approach.”

Under the new proposal, ward meetings would be held every two to four years, instead of every year. Guidinger said that would help administrators get crucial feedback without burning everyone out. He also suggested the city utilize online tools to help keep residents informed about new developments.

Although they were sympathetic to the idea, most city councillors rejected it, instead asking to stay with a regular meeting schedule.

“I really believe that it’s important to have these general meetings for discussion to keep people engaged,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards said. “I know we have a lot of online information and surveys, but not all people are on there. This gives a chance for those to come out and voice their opinions, to have the directors there and answer some direct questions.”

“I’m not sure we get there with a project based approach, because, quite often, the phone calls and chats I have are with the residents that are about what’s going on in front of my house, what’s going on down the street,” Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski added. “They have nothing to do with projects.”

Both Zurakowski and Edwards added that they appreciated having city administrators come out to the meetings and answer questions face-to-face. They said direct feedback from city department heads helps bring clarity to many issues residents face.

Councillors Dennis Nowoselsky, Evert Botha Terra Lennox-Zepp and Dennis Nowoselsky were also vocal proponents of continuing yearly ward meetings. Nowoselsky even put forward a new motion that would see them continue yearly, although nearby wards would likely partner together to hold joint meetings. The proposal would also allow for open sessions if administrators decide to go the project-based route.

The proposal passed and will be headed to a regular council meeting for approval.