WESTLOCK – Although Westlock County councillors are pleased the municipality had 15 applicants for its annual scholarship program and they agreed to award three post-secondary students $500 each, they want to review the policy that outlines the program in early 2023 with the reeve saying it’s “clearly outdated.”
At their Sept. 13 meeting, councillors approved $500 scholarships to Blaine Rinas, Rebecca Felske and Kamylle Viney, then directed administration to bring policy 6.07, scholarship program, back to the February 2023 governance and priorities (GPC) meeting.
Normally the county hands out two, $500 awards but only received one applicant in 2021 and the leftover $500 was added to the pot for 2022. Reeve Christine Wiese told councillors she listened to the Sept. 14, 2021, debate when councillors selected the winner and didn’t get a clear sense of whether the leftover $500 would be added to the 2022 program to allow for three scholarships — the policy had been scheduled to come back to a GPC meeting but never did. Policy 6.07 clearly states “Westlock County will award no more than two $500 scholarships per calendar year.”
“It’s not about the recipients and it’s not about the scholarship, it’s about the policy. It’s clearly outdated and I think there are things that need to be fixed in it,” said Wiese.
“Congratulation to the recipients, but we’re not following policy,” added Coun. Stuart Fox-Robinson, who made the motion to bring the policy forward in 2023. “If we carried $500 forward and we knew that as per policy we were only to give out $1,000, then we only needed to set aside $500.”
Wiese then went on to note a handful of additional tweaks the policy needs, while deputy-reeve Ray Marquette pointed out that while family of county staff can apply for a scholarship, immediate family members of councillors cannot. And while councillors want the document revised, they made it clear they’re in favour of the scholarships with Coun. Jared Stitsen calling it “a great program” while Coun. Isaac Skuban said it was “amazing” they received 15 applicants in 2022 “because in the first two years I’ve been here, we only got one.”
In her briefing to council, community services coordinator Adrienne Finnegan said a team from administration reviewed each applicant based on the criteria and eligibility guidelines which included academic performance, relevance of study, community service, citizenship and overall quality of application submission.
“I think this definitely needs to be reviewed. I want to make sure that when we’re doing these things and going outside of policy, we have a council decision regarding it … I’m just looking for clarity. It was unclear to me as we have a policy that we aren’t following and the resolution (from September 2021) wasn’t clear either,” Wiese continued, while giving kudos to admin for drumming up scholarship applications via social media. “But I’m glad we do the scholarships and I think it’s wonderful. And the increase in awareness has been amazing and you’ve hit the nail on the head there.”
While CAO Tony Kulbisky agreed the policy “needs an update” and they’ll work on it leading up to the February meeting, he reminded them that council is not bound by policy and can go outside the lines when needed.
“Council always has the authority to step outside your policy at any given time. So, when you have these unique circumstances, council has the authority to make those decisions and step out of policy, recognizing that you do have a policy that you’re trying to stick too,” he stated.