This was the title of an article posted in the local paper a few weeks back, available at the address below.
Previous council put in place a policy that no more than three members of council could attend conventions at any one time, with each councilor being allowed to attend at least once during their term. The municipality belongs to three organizations that hold conventions every year the FCM, AUMA, and the AAMDC.
Mayor Decoux in a very strong tone referred to this as “an archaic defeatist type of policy” the acting CAO addressed the importance of the AUMA convention, with it being an excellent opportunity for council to network with peers in other municipalities, to attend valuable education sessions, to deal with the business of the association and their resolutions. He also mentioned that they would be trying to line up meetings with various provincial ministers.
Sounds good in theory?
When I was first elected to council in 2004 I went to a couple of conventions, in both Edmonton and Calgary. I find out going through my first budget process that $30-40,000 of the taxpayers money was being spent a year attending these conventions. Nothing to sneeze at but with an open mind I felt maybe it was money well spent. Let’s look at the different aspects of these conventions:
Meeting peers from other municipalities, true no question about it you get to meet a lot of people, keep in mind council attends regional meetings on an annual basis where they get to meet all of their fellow councilors from both this corner of the province and the Elk Valley municipalities with issues similar to ours. Outside of the immediate area how many municipalities really care about what’s going on in the Crowsnest Pass they have their own issues to deal with.
There also is the opportunity to find out what other municipalities are doing, let’s keep in mind that with the invention of the Internet you can find out what anybody is doing in the few strokes of the keyboard. If you really want to be “archaic” you could pick up the phone and call other communties.
Valuable education sessions, some are really good some are like watching paint dry, the one’s that are good, lots of people attend and the others very few attend. Most of the sessions provide literature which a councilor could bring back and copy for his fellow councilors. Also we asked that councilors bring back a report on the valuable information they heard, and share it with all of council. No different than went you send a councilor to the Oldman watershed committee, or any other meeting you don’t send all of them you ask for a report back.
Business of the association, there are 3000 people in a big room voting on resolutions that for the most part are decided by substantial margins one way or the other, the fact that Crowsnest Pass as three votes or seven does it really matter?
Meetings with ministers, two types first of all you have a session with ministers where they answer questions from the room then they go out on the floor to speak to the delegates. Its really builds your ego up when a politician looks at your name tag and says “Dean good to see you again, I hear things are going really well in Canmore! Oops sorry Crowsnest Pass” I sat and counted one time a minister speak to 25 delegates in thirty minutes, I questioned how many of there comments he would remember two days from now.
Second there are the scheduled meetings with ministers in a private room, you get 20-30 minutes to meet with a minister and his assistant. Most councils have a spokesmen either the Mayor or the CAO who will do 90% of the speaking for your group lets be realistic you are not going to have eight people yapping of in a short meeting with a minister. Do you really need all seven members of council there?
A few things that were missed by the Mayor and the CAO:
Hospitality rooms. these are meeting rooms in various hotels where delegates are staying. Set up by vendors that deal with municipalities: engineering firms, law firms, and suppliers. You get to go eat free food and all the booze you can drink, certainly saw a lot more enthusiastic councilors in these rooms than I did at the education sessions. These are the types of people that municipal administrators should be dealing with, not politicians.
Costs: $30-40,000 a year you may ask how can that be. Well remember each member of council gets a $160 per day times 7 that’s $1120 per day times at minimum 4 days per convention. Hotel rooms are going to cost at least $200 per day times 8 (Including CAO) that’s $1600 per day. Mileage most councilors take their spouse which means you will have a minimum of 4 people charging mileage $2000 to Edmonton.
Keep in mind the FCM is usually held outside Alberta in places like Quebec City, Whistler, Halifax etc. Even more costly when you factor in plane fares.
Stephen Mandel Mayor of Edmonton did not attend this year he stated “the FCM group hasn't been effective in pushing civic concerns in Ottawa”
Back to the issues are there a value to these conventions?
I believe there is some, there is no question that occasionally some good information is picked up, and some of the right hands are shaken. But nothing that one or two individuals couldn’t share with a larger group.
Should all seven members of council attend? I don’t believe so it’s a luxury that a community with our lack of financial strength cannot afford.
When you are closing libraries and consolidating shops to be more efficient and cut costs why does every member of council need to go to a convention?