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Westlock County passes new conference attendance policy

Councillors will have to submit a written report after attending conferences

WESTLOCK – Westlock County councillors will have some homework to do the next time they take in a conference on the taxpayers’ dime.

At their Feb. 28 regular meeting, councillors voted 6-0 (Coun. Francis Cloutier was absent) to approve Policy 1900-001 Elected Official Conference and Convention Attendance, a vastly-updated three-page document that spells out the rules for elected officials attending conferences, workshops, and educational seminars — the new policy was first discussed for 10 minutes at council’s Feb. 21 committee of the whole meeting (COW).

The biggest add following the COW meeting was a clause that compels councillors attending conferences, workshops, and educational seminars to provide “a brief report” on the conference/workshops/educational seminar to the next scheduled COW meeting.

Coun. Stuart Fox-Robinson, who called the first draft back on Feb. 21 “fantastic” had asked for the inclusion of a report into the document, which he called a “reasonable request” considering taxpayers are footing the bill. During debate Feb. 28, he clarified that he wants it to be a “written report”, which councillors ultimately signed off on.

“I think my fellow councillors will agree that a written report from attending (the Rural Municipalities of Alberta) convention or things like that is actually needed so that our residents can actually see what we’re out there doing,” said Fox-Robinson.

Ultimately, the policy states that the county “believes that elected officials should attend conferences, workshops, and educational seminars that are intended to develop the elected officials understanding of local government issues and are relevant to the governing of the local community.”

While councillors are not limited in the number of sessions they attend, the total costs of attendance claimed may not exceed the total dollars provided in theirs or the reeve’s expense budget, unless approved by council as a whole.

Also, the reeve and each councillor are budgeted to attend either the spring or fall Rural Municipalities of Alberta Association conference, while in the event the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference is held in Alberta, all can attend so long as there’s a resolution.

Also, council approval is not required for councillors to attend conferences/seminars that are directly related to the board/committee appointments approved at the annual organizational meeting, while those not appointed to boards or committees will need council approval prior to registration and attendance.

If an appointed councillor is not able to attend “a conference, seminar, course, or event directly related to their appointment,” and allows another to take their place, the expenses will be coded to the councillor that is being covered for.

CAO Tony Kulbisky said at the Feb. 21 COW meeting that in next year’s budget councillors will see an itemized list of all the council appointments, the conferences they attend, how much it cost and how it relates to this policy.

“It’s a way of checks and balances for councillors on how you spend your dollars,” he added.

George Blais,