What was discussed in 30 minutes?

This week's editorial looks at motivations of Ponoka town council regarding fire services.

Ponoka town council, rather the now well-known majority in the council, dug in their heels once again and decided to ignore the concerns of the more than one thousand signatories among the residents and refused to reconsider their determination to go for a town-financed and operated fire service.

As you may have read in our story on page 2, the majority of four against the three also voted down a motion to hold a public meeting to allow the residents to express their opposition to their Jan. 12 decision to separate the town’s fire services unit from the county, which they made against the recommendation of the interim CAO.

But if the majority of four thinks that this matter is going to go away and residents will stop asking questions about the irrational decision that they have condemned the town residents to abide by, they will probably soon realize that they are wrong.

Questions will continue to be asked, until the day of voting in the next municipal elections.

But without waiting that long, here is a question:

Why do the majority of four, in particular among them Councillor Loanna Gulka, take comfort in the deliberations of the some 30-minute in-camera discussions held just before they voted to separate the fire services from the county on Jan. 12?

What was discussed in that short in-camera session?

Gulka is quoted in our story as saying “When it deals with legal, land or personnel, you can’t talk about those things in open public.”

Now operating a fire department is a vital community service, it is an organizational issue. It is not a land specific topic of discussion, nor is it legal.

Furthermore, the following is an excerpt from the Government of Alberta website information on the responsibilities of municipal councils to conduct business in a transparent manner:

“As an elected body, councils should avoid conducting business in-camera. This includes discussion of difficult topics, such as:

*Budget deliberations

Tax i.e. assessments/mill rates, penalties

Capital expenditures

*Any contentious issues

o Sensitive local issues

o Bylaw amendments i.e. Land use

o Subdivision proposals

*Tax recovery i.e. reserve bids for auction.

*Discussions regarding the hiring of additional municipal staff and or the setting of salary ranges.

Now nobody disputes that the future of fire services has been a very sensitive issue since the now-fired CAO Rachel Kuntz made a mess of the relations between the town and county over the recruitment of a new fire chief.

Plus, readers would remember that Economic Development Board did raise some concerns before the Jan. 12 decision with regard to possible conflicts of interest and those concerns were speculated to be related to family ties between a particular councillor and a senior fire department functionary.

Now the last mentioned matter clearly falls under the “personnel” category quoted as one of the reasons why Gulka said in-camera session deliberations could not be brought up in a public meeting.

But if that is the case, separating town’s fire services from the county based on consideration of personnel matters does not seem to be proper. The proper thing would be to decide on the functionality and organizational chart first and then decide on the personnel requirements. But we don’t know if that was considered, because we don’t know what was discussed in the 30-minute in camera session.

Really, what was discussed in camera in the 30-minute session?

Oh, by the way, as the readers might remember, the town council, rather the familiar majority of four, have introduced a new line of payment for fire fighters, described as “on call payment.”

It now seems that it is another trailblazing initiative by Ponoka town council. A few phone calls to the neighbouring regional fire services are enough to demonstrate that it is hard to find another jurisdiction in the neighbourhood with that kind of a facility offered to firefighters.

It is up to the Ponoka ratepayers to decide what that means.