Toll bridge tip of the iceberg

Diefenbaker Bridge. -- Herald file photo.

On June 6, 2017, Prince Albert city council passed a motion asking for a report on the cost of turning Diefenbaker Bridge into a toll bridge.

The report was supposed to be returned within 60 days, but more than a year later, city council is still waiting for an answer. On Monday, city administration said they could have something ready by June 30, 2019, more than two years after the original motion. That request didn’t sit well with city council.

“I was hoping that I would open my iPad on Sunday morning and have the gift of reading a report that says, ‘this is the gory details of how this is going to work out on our bridge and who’s going to pay and who’s not going to pay,’ but I did not get that,” said Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller, who brought forward the original motion one year ago. “I guess I’m a little bit frustrated with the process because we do have bylaws that state there are 60 days (to respond) and administration has to answer us, and they are not.”

“We’re asking for a two-year extension, essentially, from the day that is was posted,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards added. “Two years to get that report, all for simple logistics. That’s what it is. I don’t like it. That’s not acceptable to me.”

Miller and Edwards weren’t the only councillors to vent their frustrations as they went line-by-line through an issue tracking motion review on Monday. The semi-annual review is designed to provide updates on all 62 open issues initiated at either city council or executive committee meetings.

The open items included everything from recent motions on opening an urban sweat lodge (delayed because the mayor’s office has not received a response for a requested meeting with interested parties), to a 2014 motion from former councillor Lee Atkinson about moving the management of the Diefenbaker Trust Fund to the Financial Services Department (delayed due to recent changes to the Director of Finance position).

Although some councillors noted how items like the impeding legalization of marijuana were taking up valuable time from city administrators, the general feeling was one of unhappiness.

City manager Jim Toye did not mince words on the subject. In an address to city council, he publicly apologized for the backlog and vowed administration would do better.

“Members of city council and the public, I just want to tell you I’m humiliated and embarrassed with some of the things I’ve heard today, and (with) myself,” Toye said during Monday’s meeting. “I failed city council. These have been going on for way too long.”

Toye said he planned to meet with city staff on Tuesday and get to work on the backlog.

“I’m not going to promise that I’m going to have all these before council in 60 days,” Toye continued. “There’s going to be some challenges in getting some of these things done in that period of time. Me and my team will work very heard to ensure that we follow up.”

There are several reasons items languish on the open list instead of being closed. However Mayor Greg Dionne said poor communication between administration and council is the primary culprit, and added that in some cases, administration is being asked to do too much in too little time.

Ideally, he wants city council to offer clearer instructions when they call for reports, and planned to send a memo out on Wednesday detailing those concerns.

“What we’ve got to do is communicate better,” he said. “We have to, as a council and an administration.”

As for the toll bridge report, administration says a comprehensive review is required to evaluate infrastructure, traffic and staffing, which requires input from multiple departments. However, Miller made it clear the 2019 due date was unacceptable. City council has instead instructed administration to come back with something by Sept. 18.