City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

City of Fernie to re-assess council liaison roles

Mayor Qualizza said the liason program had changed dramatically since it was first introduced

The City of Fernie is re-assessing its council liaison arrangements following discussion at the most recent council meeting, with Mayor Ange Qualizza saying they were not as productive or valuable for city councillors or the City of Fernie as originally intended.

A council liaison is when a councillor or city staff member is apppointed to sit in on community organisation board meetings to facilitate better communication between the municipality and community groups.

Council had been asked by a community group to appoint a City of Fernie liaison, but Mayor Ange Qualizza used the request at the Nov. 9 regular council meeting to talk about the value of councillors attending community group and operator board meetings.

“We need to really evaluate our council liaison positions,” she said, adding that the program had started during her time on council as a way to promote wholesome relationships between the city and community groups.

“The idea of that was our core operating partners had connectivity to the City of Fernie, and what’s happened now is three of our council appointments have been excluded from meetings. So they’re allowed to come in for four or six minutes (and) get a little bit of information if there’s some available, and then just get a lot of questions from board members.”

Qualizza said things had “changed dramatically” since the program of assigning councillors to be liaisons with community groups was introduced.

“In my work with the Regional District of East Kootenay, what we do now with our committees and appointments is that (RDEK’s) bullying and harassment policy is to follow councillor liaisons out into the community.”

She said that through that, city staff could be kept “in the right lane” when it came to getting the most out of the program for the city.

Qualizza said that she wanted to see the roles re-assessed with a better understanding from the city on what is expected along with “terms of reference and bullying and harassment around our personnel and colleagues so that they feel safe and included.”

Chief Administrative Officer Michael Boronowski said he understood why many groups would want a council liaison assigned to their board as it was perceived as a means to a smoother route into council meetings, communication and engagement with the city.

“As (Mayor Qualizza) said, that’s not always the case.”

Boronowski said there could be more value in exploring alternative arrangements to appointing council liaisons in order to get the most value out of city-community group relationships, such as potentially having community groups work with city staff rather than councillors, though he conceded that the value of board-to-board communication couldn’t always be met through shortcuts.

“What I would like to stay away from is having individual councillors representing all of council in closed-room meetings,” he said.

Discussion centered around value for the City of Fernie, the timing of board meetings councillors are expected to attend, doubling-up of communications through the liaison program and issues with conflict of interest when councillors became too involved in board meetings.

City councillors declined to appoint a council liaison to the community group that was making the request at the Nov. 9 meeting, and voted to direct staff to formalize the process through which the City of Fernie engaged with community associations and boards, and how to address council liaison appointments.

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