Big Valley council moves forward with ‘openness’ policy

Written by Stu Salkeld

The Village of Big Valley council’s efforts to increase openness and accessibility to residents moved ahead at their Feb. 10 regular meeting as a revised bylaw making council information easier to access passed two readings.

The revised procedural bylaw passed first and second reading on votes by Mayor Dan Houle and Coun. Amber Hoogenberg, with Coun. Gail Knudson absent from the meeting. 

Knudson’s absence was actually the reason the revised bylaw did not advance to reading; Mayor Houle stated he felt that since Knudson was the one who requested changes to the bylaw, it shouldn’t be passed unless she was there to vote on it.

Last fall after the municipal election Knudson told her council peers she felt meeting agendas should be easier for the public to obtain, including both electronic or paper copies.

A copy of the revised bylaw was not available to the public at the council meeting.

On the record

Councillors read a memo from Village Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Tracy Mindus regarding how the municipality publicly advertises information. 

“Council requested administration to investigate the Municipal Government Act (MGA) requirements for advertising if the Whistle is no longer mailed out but available at the Canada Post office in Big Valley,” stated Mindus’ memo to council. 

The Whistle is the Village of Big Valley newsletter.

“In the past the MGA provided two options: advertising in local newspaper for two consecutive weeks or mailing a notice to every residence in the subject area. Now the MGA allows for a municipality to adopt an advertising bylaw. 

Council must hold a public hearing for the advertising bylaw. The advertising bylaw could allow for an electronic means for advertising (email, website, Facebook) as well as in a publication circulating in the area. 

The Whistle would be a publication circulating in the area. In essence the Whistle is not required to be mailed out to every resident if we adopt an advertising bylaw,” added Mindus.

Coun. Hoogenberg stated she hesitated to commit the village to something like Facebook for public notices because a lot of the residents of Big Valley don’t use computers or social media. 

Hoogenberg stated the village should continue to use mail but also said she liked the idea of a public meeting about the issue.

Mindus pointed out if the advertising bylaw is adopted, it includes a public consultation process. Mayor Houle suggested the March council meeting for the public hearing as COVID rules could be much reduced by then.

Mindus recommended a public hearing be a stand-alone meeting because it’s unknown how long the hearing could take. 

Houle responded he may have trouble accommodating a separate meeting with his schedule.

Councillors eventually decided to table the advertising bylaw idea to a future meeting.

Historic request

Councillors decided to set aside a request for funding from the Big Valley Historical Society until after the budgeting process is completed.

A letter received from the historical society asked for financial assistance for maintenance work on the historic grain elevator.

It was noted in the letter the total estimate for work on the elevator was $68,000, the society has to date paid $48,000 of that, but the pandemic has negatively affected fundraising efforts.

It was also noted that provincial funding cuts have also affected the grain elevator project in a negative way.

Hoogenberg noted the society did get some grant funding but only about 20 per cent of the project cost.

Houle suggested the request be tabled until after council has completed the annual budget process. Council agreed.

 

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.