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Athabasca County to explore increased transparency for committee of the whole meetings

Councillors near split on previously defeated idea
During their April 9 meeting, Athabasca County councillors and reeve Brian Hall, pictured, revisited an issue that was defeated in late 2022, this time around giving the motion to look into livestreaming committee of the whole meetings the go-ahead.

ATHABASCA — Athabasca County administration will be exploring the practicality of livestreaming county council’s more in-depth chamber after a motion councillors said was defeated more than a year ago received majority vote. 

During their April 9 regular meeting, Athabasca County councillors voted 5-4 to pass a motion that would see a report on the feasibility and costs associated with implementing livestreaming for committee of the whole (COTW) meetings submitted to council by the May 30 meeting. 

Councillors Gary Cromwell, Tracy Holland, Joe Gerlach, Kelly Chamzuk, and Rob Minns voted in favour of the motion, while councillors Ashtin Anderson, Camille Wallach, Natasha Kapitaniuk, and Reeve Brian Hall voted against. 

“It’s very important that we’re transparent, that we’re open to the public, to the ratepayers, that they hear what is going on, and they see what is going on,” said Cromwell, who put the motion forward via a notice announced at the March 28 council meeting. 

COTW meetings, held on the third Tuesday of each month, are open to the public as per the Municipal Government Act (MGA). Unlike regular council meetings, councillors have more room for deeper discussions around items and issues during COTW and can pass recommendations to be voted on in regular meetings. 

“As committee of the whole is a very encompassing meeting, there’s nothing that should be hidden away,” added Cromwell. “Given that we are already doing livestreaming, I think it’s very reasonable and important.” 

The motion was one councillors said they had previously discussed in late 2022 when amending the policy related to livestreaming of meetings. 

Following the June 30, 2022 decision to rescind the bylaws and policies allowing for a public works committee, and further deliberations during the Nov. 17, 2022 COTW meeting, both public works and budget and finance committees were removed from the livestreaming policy. No record of a formal vote on livestreaming COTW was located. 

 As per the county’s procedural bylaw, a resolution made by council may be brought back for reconsideration within a month of the vote, or after one calendar year has passed. 

“Once again, we’re circling back on a decision that’s already been decided by council,” said Hall.  “We’re being asked, in this case, to make a decision to even direct administration to do something without any explanation for why we should reconsider a settled item.”  

Hall suggested council review the notice of motion procedure at a later date and said other methods of submitting the item would have given councillors at the table more information. 

“I feel like this request could easily have been handled through a request for decision that sought the same outcome, which would have required an explanation on why we should take this up,” said Hall. “It lacks the transparency we’re looking for.” 

Holland spoke in support of the motion, and noted the county possessing its own recordings of meetings could prove beneficial in clarifying potential misunderstandings, and aid administration in record keeping and minute taking. 

“I think it’s extremely important that we move forward into what technology we have, that we utilize it, and it’s a complete benefit to all,” said Holland. 

Live typing of motions 

A second motion, also put forward via a notice from Cromwell during the May 30 meeting, to investigate the feasibility of live typing motions on the screen during livestreamed meetings, was tabled until after council’s upcoming planning sessions. 

“While we had previously discussed and voted in opposition to the livestreaming of (COTW) meetings, the live typing of motions on the projector is a new initiative that’s being brought to the table,” said Anderson.

“It’s being brought under this format with no real explanation as to why, and I am quite opposed to adding more items to administrations list of things to do until after the strategic planning session is done,” she added. 

Councillors voted 6-3 — with Cromwell, Holland, and Minns opposed — to pick up the item after upcoming in-depth conversations around immediate priorities for admin and council in 2024 and the remainder of the term, as well as long-range visions for the municipality. 

Lexi Freehill,

About the Author: Lexi Freehill

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