Town council in search of unity

After a battle over the fire service, Ponoka council is looking to put things back together

After the vote on the separation of the fire services from the county operation brought to surface the long standing division in the Town of Ponoka council, the municipal leadership is now openly in search of solutions to be able to continue to function as a team.

Coun. Carla Prediger made the motion during the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 26 to engage the services of mediation with help from Alberta Municipal Affairs.

“If you go into this, there has to be a commitment by all seven,” said interim CAO Doug Wright, referring to the possible tensions that a mediation process can create.

Coun. Loanna Gulka expressed some concerns how they would proceed if a councillor did not want to be part of mediation. Prediger suggested the mediator would be able to help with that, and Wright agreed. Mayor Rick Bonnett is in favour of mediation.

“We as a council have to come to an agreement first and foremost,” said Bonnett.

The six councillors present were in favour of the motion.

Code of conduct

Coun. Gulka for her part presented a policy proposal to council seeking approval of a code of conduct that would set clear boundaries for councillors’ actions.

She found out the town didn’t have any kind of policy and researched on several municipalities to determine how they worked. “I think it would help us sometimes clarify the lines,” said Gulka.

Some of the proposed policies discuss the prohibition of releasing confidential information and restricting authority release of regular information to mayor, CAO and the communications officer, banning acceptance of gifts and treating everyone with respect and not engaging in violence.

Coun. Carla Prediger praised the initiative but suggested some clarity will be required as to whether individuals are in breach of the policy, but Gulka replied if there is no discussion of specific issues in the Municipal Government Act, there is little more that can be added to the policy.

“If it doesn’t fall under legislation, we can’t put any teeth into it,” said Gulka.

However, Bonnett suggested there is some leeway for council. He praised Gulka’s initiative but suggested it be tabled for further discussion. Coun. Teri Underhill said the City of Lacombe has a code of ethics policy and she feels Ponoka could have one as well.

The decision was tabled for more discussion at a committee of the whole meeting.

Council and CAO framework

A strong and positive relationship with the new CAO is critical and Wright presented the council a framework detailing information regarding delineation of functions and responsibilities of the council and the administration.

“It’s used as a framework, it’s a guide,” said Wright.

The information sets up council and the CAO for success in their interactions and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of each party. Among those roles are legal and regulatory requirements, policy development, strategic direction setting, council operations, relationships with the CAO and stakeholders, fiscal stewardship, risk management and accountability.