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Missed meetings a bone of contention

Campaigning and talking to town residents brought home the need for a clearer policy on council remuneration in regards to attendance, Coun. Trevor Kotowich told town council at its Sept. 27 meeting. The Town of St.

Campaigning and talking to town residents brought home the need for a clearer policy on council remuneration in regards to attendance, Coun. Trevor Kotowich told town council at its Sept. 27 meeting.

The Town of St. Paul’s mayor and councillors receive a monthly remuneration, but the public wants to know they’re honouring their commitment in terms of attending meetings, he said.

“It’s a generalized comment. I don’t need to point fingers and I’m not going to point fingers,” Kotowich said in an interview following the meeting. “But I firmly believe we are elected to represent our community.” That involves attending regularly scheduled meetings, he says. He agrees people need to be able to take time off on the odd occasion for sickness or holidays or for things like kids’ dance recitals. “But extended absences – I think those are inexcusable.”

Since council meets on the second and fourth Monday of every month, a councillor could be gone for five weeks, miss two regular meetings, and still collect his/her base salary for $1,000 a month. But in that time, a person would not be serving duties as a member of council, would not be available for the public, and would not be able to attend committee meetings (upon which pay is based on attendance), said Kotowich.

Following the meeting, Town CAO Ron Boisvert provided the numbers on missed meetings. Mayor Glenn Andersen has an almost perfect attendance record, missing one out of the 69 meetings in this past three year term, followed by Coun. Pat Gratton, who’s missed three meetings, and Coun. Ken Kwiatkowski, who’s missed four.

Coun. Danny White and Kotowich have missed five and six meetings respectively, while Coun. Gary Ward, who joined council mid-term to fill the seat left vacant by former Coun. Guy Germain’s passing, has missed three. Coun. John Trefanenko was absent 13 times, representing 19 per cent of the regularly scheduled meetings.

The Municipal Government Act is clear on matters of attendance, stating the councillor is disqualified if he/she “is absent from all regular council meetings held during any period of eight consecutive weeks, starting with the date that the first meeting is missed”.

In an interview, Trefanenko explained there have been a number of reasons why he has missed meetings in this term, not only because he has a holiday home in Arizona. He clarified he bought the holiday home as an investment, and that so far, some of his friends and relatives have used it more than he has. He notes he has only been away from St. Paul for two or three weeks at a time during the winter, and during the “critical” months of April 1 to Dec. 31, he doesn’t miss any council meetings. In his 15 years as mayor, he pointed out his attendance was near-perfect.

“I don’t think I’ve abused the system,” he said. While he may have missed two meetings in a row in this past term, he said he has always made it a point to attend the third regular scheduled meeting. “We should note that Mayor (Glenn) Andersen has never expressed a concern to me, and why should he, since no article under the auspices of the Alberta Municipal Government Act has been violated or not adhered to.”

He took issue with the fact that Kotowich brought the matter up in a public meeting, calling it a “political backhanded” approach. His feeling is that council should work as a team, and the matter should have been brought up directly to him as constructive criticism, instead of without any notice at a public council meeting. “It’s a terrible way of dealing with people,” he said, later adding in an e-mailed statement to the Journal: “My only hope is that voters recognize this ‘political backhanded’ approach and vote for six open-minded, cooperative type individuals bringing in a strong, progressive council team.”

Andersen said council’s future direction on absences will depend on feelings around the table. “If council feels there’s a need for this . . . to revise our policy to make us more accountable to the public, I’ll agree with it,” he said, adding anyone who lets their name stand for municipal elections should know there’s a level of time and commitment expected of them. So far, all the councillors are abiding by the Municipal Government Act’s policy on attendance, but he notes that the MGA allows councillors a “lot of time away,” and he asks, “Is that in the best interest of the public?

“We’ll discuss it to see if we want to make (our policy) more stringent than the Municipal Government Act.”