Town council postponed its open forum schedule for Thursday, May 8 but Mayor Rene Gendre will hold one on his own.
Council voted Monday at a special meeting to postpone the event because nothing has been prepared for the forum.
Gendre decided after the special meeting to enlist members of the Fort Macleod Economic Development Commission for his own forum at 6 p.m. Thursday at Holy Cross Hall.
Gendre had set the May 8 date on his own and when councillors complained they weren’t involved, the mayor turned planning over to them last week.
With the event just four days away, council asked for the special meeting on Monday to discuss the forum
“We don’t know what has taken place,” Coun. Trish Hoskin said.
Gendre said no plans had been made, including booking the hall, although he had told to an individual he might be approached to moderate the forum.
“It’s just left open as a forum — wide open — where people can come and ask questions,” Gendre said.
Hoskin favoured setting up displays that would provide the public with information about projects and activities planned by council and the Town of Fort Macleod staff.
“I don’t think we should just go in there and wing it,” Hoskin said.
Gendre preferred to leave the format open so residents can ask for information on topics that interest them, and provide council with direction.
Hoskin said she preferred to have the event well-planned, with a structured format and information prepared.
“I wonder if we might be able to postpone it,” Hoskin said.
Gendre said previous councils held that kind of open house and few residents bothered to attend.
“I was hoping we would engage the public more than that,” Gendre said.
Gendre referred to two open houses held last year under the auspices of the EDC, which attracted 60 people to one and 80 to another at Holy Cross Hall.
Coun. Mike Collar said he would prefer the format to allow council to present information about planned spending.
“To me, that gets the conversation going,” Collar said.
Coun. Brent Feyter said Gendre should have consulted council more before setting the date.
“Council doesn’t even have a clear understanding of what’s going on,” Feyter said, who wanted to council to come to an agreement on the format and provide clear direction to administration. “It is my opinion as well that we should be postponing this.”
Gendre argued against having town administration direct the forum, explaining he sees it as an opportunity for council to get direction from its employers — the residents of Fort Macleod.
“We’ll get their input so we can put it in our budget and strategic plan,” Gendre said.
Coun. Gord Wolstenholme agreed there would be value in receiving input from the public, but said the event needed better planning and it was too late to do that to draw a good crowd.
Gendre said the open forum has been advertised and people are planning to attend.
Feyter and Hoskin both pointed out council had received input from people at the Fort Macleod Trade Show on April 25-26, and that the economic development commission is gathering information through a survey.
“I think we can get a lot of feedback at an open forum,” Gendre countered.
Coun. Keith Trowbridge expressed concern the date of the open forum was the only decision that had been made with the event just a few days away.
“How is this going to happen?” Trowbridge asked.
Gendre suggested council could spend the first 30 minutes Thursday mingling with people before opening it up for questions.
Collar said he would prefer to present information on council’s plans and explain why those decisions had been made.
Collar suggested postponing the event a month, and Feyter agreed that would allow time for more planning.
“It’s three days away and I don’t think this is the right time for us to be planning it,” Hoskin added, stressing there needs to be a plan. “I don’t feel prepared.”
Gendre wondered if there is ever a bad time for someone to ask a question of council.
“Yes,” Coun. Michael Dyck said. “If we don’t have all the information.”
Dyck said council will be better prepared to answer questions once it has finished its budget at the end of May.
Gendre maintained council should get direction from residents before the budget is finalized — not after.
Gendre and EDC chairman Klaas Brobbel agreed there was sufficient time before Thursday to print maps and get information together.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Gendre said.
Wolstenholme said the mayor had set the date prematurely.
“We should be better organized,” Wolstenholme said. “This is not organized.”
Wolstenholme said it is his experience as a teacher that if he is not prepared for a class, it will quickly go off the rails.
The discussion continued to go back and forth until Dyck introduced a motion to postpone the forum to the end of May.
EDC member Gerry Eversole tried to reassure council that they already have information that would interest the public.
“You already are prepared,” Eversole said, urging council not to take the need for planning to seriously. “You know stuff.”
Dyck responded, “I do take this position very seriously.”
Eversole reassured Dyck that no one was questioning council’s commitment to the job.
“Don’t take it so seriously that everything tightens up on you,” Eversole said.
Brobbel agreed with Eversole the open forum was an opportunity for council to share knowledge it has with the public.
Hoskin maintained council has received input from the public at the trade show and in daily life, and will from the EDC survey
“I have a pretty good idea where we want to go,” Hoskin said.
Collar also noted that several members of the Town of Fort Macleod staff are not available Thursday.
Gendre still pushed for the open forum to go ahead.
“Let’s meet the public,” Gendre said. “Let’s hear what the comments are. We were told many times (during the election campaign) that we have to be open. We were tod the last council wasn’t.”
Dyck said councillors are open to input, explaining he and all council members talk to people daily about issues in the community.
Wolstenholme said an open forum is a good idea, but the mayor erred in not involving council earlier in planning.
“I don’t see why this is the first time we’re talking about this,” Wolstenholme said. “And we had to call a special meeting to do it.”
Collar said he didn’t like the idea of postponing the meeting since it had been advertised, but said there was no choice since so many councillors wanted more time to prepare.
Council voted 6-1 in favour of postponing the open forum, with only Gendre opposed.