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Arts centre project discussed behind closed doors

Posted on June 24, 2015 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

The town’s Community Centre Auditorium could be eligible for federal funding that would enhance the facility to include a theatre and convention centre, but the details surrounding the proposal were not made public.

At their June 8 meeting, town council voted 5-1 to table discussion of the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program until the in camera portion of the June 8 meeting.

Coun. Joe Strojwas opposed the motion, and Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux was absent.

The federal government recently announced the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, with an application deadline of June 17, 2015.

At its May 20 meeting, the Performing Arts Centre Committee (PACC) discussed the potential to obtain grant funding under the program to support development of its theatre proposal.

Doug Emek, PACC chair, was present at the June 8 council meeting to provide a “brief preview of the committee’s proposal” during the in camera portion of the meeting.

“This is a little bit tricky for us,” said CAO Greg Birch. “What we’d like you to do is to discuss this in open session, but we’d like you to hear from a representative of the Performing Arts Centre Committee in closed session so you can understand what’s being asked for. There’s no reason why asking for a grant should be in closed session, but it’s hard to ask for a grant unless you see what the proposal is, and as you know from your previous meeting, the proposal is coming to you on June 22. They just don’t want to have a loss of the thunder they hope to generate when they introduce the proposal on June 22.”

A grant under the program could potentially provide funding of up to $500,000 and cannot exceed more than 50 per cent of the project cost, leaving the municipality to pick up the bill for the remaining 50 per cent of any proposed project.

The program will allocate $150 million over two years to projects that rehabilitate existing community facilities in Canada.

“I’m a little confused on how that falls under land, legal or labour,” said Coun. Rick Popadynetz, referencing exceptions under the FOIPP Act that govern in camera discussions in the Municipal Government Act.

Birch replied the exceptions cited by Popadynetz are general guidelines which do not include all possible exceptions under FOIPP.

“The short form of thinking of what you can put into closed session is land, legal or labour. If you actually look at the legislation, there’s categories that are not really land, legal or labour. Section 24 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP) suggests that you can go into closed session to hear a proposal from administration or another source on a project. So you’re getting advice from your administration on something that is part of a proposal coming forth. Section 24 allows you to receive advice that’s ‘in transition’ if you will.”

Following the in camera portion of their June 8 meeting, council voted unanimously to direct administration to apply for the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program funding for a major upgrade of the town’s auditorium, to be designed in the context of attaching a theatre and developing a convention centre complex by use of adjoining facilities.

According to administration, other potential candidate projects for funding under the grant program include completion of the former Taber Courthouse restoration and the arena dressing rooms project.

Under guidelines laid down by Alberta Municipal Affairs, as an elected body, municipal councils should avoid conducting business in-camera, including discussion of difficult topics such as budget deliberations, capital expenditures, tax recoveries, salary ranges or hiring of additional municipal staff, bylaw amendments, subdivision proposals and “any contentious issues such as sensitive local issues”.

Section 197 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) states that councils and council committees must conduct their meetings in public unless the matter to be discussed is within one of the exceptions to disclosure in Division 2 of Part 1 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act (Sec. 16-29).

These limited exceptions for discussion include third party business interests (Sec. 16), third party personal privacy (Sec. 17), individual or public safety (Sec. 18-19), law enforcement (Sec. 20), intergovernmental relations (Sec. 21-24), and economic or other interests (Sec. 25-29).

The MGA sets out clear requirements for municipal councils to conduct their business openly, except in very limited and specific circumstances. According to Alberta Municipal Affairs, the powers of a municipal council are balanced by councils’ accountability to the citizens who elect them: “It is therefore essential that citizens are allowed to take an active interest in the development and direction of our local governments and express views to their locally elected representatives”.

Editor’s Note: Due to press deadlines, look for a story on the PACC’s June 22 proposal to town council in the July 1 edition of The Taber Times.

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