WESTLOCK — Westlock County councillors decided to move their afternoon council meeting back to its original 9 a.m. time slot.
The discussion they had in their June 23 meeting, however, revealed that aside from public participation, the potential for expanding the demographic on council might also be hindered by both afternoon and morning meetings.
“When we tried this, I don’t think it was talked about attendance. From my perspective, I think it was ‘Could we get people interested in being councillors that are working people?’” said deputy reeve Brian Coleman.
In October 2019, councillors decided to move one meeting per month from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for a trial period starting in February. That trial period has expired and the issue in council seemed to be about farmers versus employed people — who benefits from either meeting time?
Currently, it’s Coun. Jared Stitsen who has a full-time job and acts as fire chief in Busby.
“I think it would be great for anyone thinking about running for council next term, that there’s some options,” said Stitsen.
“I know the Town of Westlock and other municipalities have been doing the evening meetings just for that reason. A lot of councillors are still working. It gives you a variety of demographics of people in who’s going to run for council.”
But Coun. Dennis Primeau, with support from Coun. Fred Slobodian, pointed out that, because he’s still an active farmer, he prefers morning meetings.
“That’s fine for Jared to say it’s better for him at 4:30, I understand that, but you set it up at 4:30, you’ve eliminated basically all your farmers running for council. They’re basically out,” said Primeau.
For reeve Lou Hall, the timing of council meetings is “a dilemma,” although she stated her preference for 9 a.m. meetings.
“The 9 a.m. meetings to me are better, especially if we have a fairly long agenda or something that develops into a long agenda. Starting at 4:30, we got to almost 9 (p.m.) one night,” Hall said.
But she did bring up another councillor’s potential conflict with a morning meeting. Coun. Isaac Skuban will be starting university, and Hall wanted to know how that would impact his ability to run for council in the future.
Skuban’s answer, although evasive, indicated there was no issue there: “I feel a lot of kids can go to no classes and get through their university courses.”
He shifted the focus again to Stitsen, pointing out that although fully employed and involved in the community, “he’s making a lot of arrangements to make it to council meetings,” and ultimately expressing support for continuing with the 9 a.m. schedule.
As for attendance, Hall believes people will make the time to attend a morning meeting if they’re interested in what’s on the table — the example chose was the Pembina River flood overlay policy that had landowners incensed about building restrictions on their river-adjacent properties.
Although this was only brought up briefly in the conversation, there’s also the issue of overtime for county staff who attend meetings in the afternoon.
“You can’t expect them to come in for free,” said Slobodian, one of the 9 a.m. proponents.
For Coleman, it’s “unnecessary overtime,” although he positioned himself as “unsure how we proceed with this.”
Since all meetings will go back to the 9 a.m. start time, this issue was implicitly resolved.