LETHBRIDGE – Mayor Chris Spearman met with the media Wednesday, July 11, to discuss some of the recent issues at city hall.
At Council on Monday, a resolution from Coun. Blaine Hyggen to stop needles from leaving the supervised consumption site was delayed for two weeks after a vote which left some councillors upset with the process.
The resolution called for council to direct Arches to stop the distribution of needles leaving the site, and that any needles distributed only be used on site.
Spearman says that Section 17 of the City of Lethbridge’s procedural by-law outlines the process for setting the council agenda, including subsection 7 which states ‘all material for inclusion in the Agenda shall be in the hands of the City Clerk not later than 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon of the Wednesday immediately proceeding the Monday on which the City Council meeting is held for which the Agenda is prepared.'
“The last two city council meetings have seen official business resolutions appear as last-minute additions without prior warning to other members of city council,” Spearman said. “As I noted, I received the official business resolution from Councillor Hyggen at 1:29 p.m. on Monday, one minute prior to the start of the city council meeting.”
Spearman says the other eight members of council have no opportunity to research the issues and the possible implications when given material last minute.
“In the postponement of discussion, some members of council said we’ve got a meeting tonight in which we can learn additional information, and so there was evidence-based information to suggest why certain health policies were being followed with respect to needle distribution. That’s important and relevant information for all members of council to have,” Spearman stated.
His other main point was information that’s been provided by the Department of Municipal Affairs, which says that passing a by-law such as the one that was proposed could be subject to a court challenge.
“Councillors have to decide whether they want to risk a court challenge and expend taxpayers money defending a by-law that we might ultimately lose,” Spearman said, adding that its official health policy of Health Canada and supported by Alberta Health.
However, if someone has a burning issue they can certainly present that information maybe even as late as just before the agenda committee meets on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m.
“We will allow some flexibility, we’re not hard and fast on those types of things. We want to make sure that there’s the respect for the other members of council, and that each of them has the opportunity to research an issue. We shouldn’t be surprised at the last minute by a surprise resolution.”
“We’re responding to those as well. These are generally divisive issues where people feel like they don’t have enough information they should vote against it, right? That’s the natural reaction.”
With the downtown transit terminal, Spearman says it’s disappointing but that he can wear a bit of that.
“I don’t mind saying we found an opportunity to apply for a transportation grant when there was an expiration deadline on that opportunity. We accessed $5.7-million from each of the federal and the provincial governments to build the terminal. We got $11.5-million in external funding and we probably rushed the process,” Spearman bluntly stated.
He says that they saw that Edmonton had a transit terminal and that Red Deer had a transit terminal, so they wanted to make sure that Lethbridge got a transit terminal as well.
“We didn’t spend as much time on the detail design as we should have and secondly, we implemented some policies in terms of downtown development that we expect the private sector to adhere to,” Spearman continued. “Therefore, when we build a public building we should also adhere to them.”
Spearman says they’re going to wear that decision, but in the end what they’re going to get is a $21-million facility for $9-million [of city money].
The heart of the issue, behind the original motion to postpone, is the current opioid crisis in Lethbridge that’s causing the needle debris around the city.
Spearman addressed that, saying the Special Community Meeting was helpful to educate on that resolution.
“There’s a lot of division in the community. There were people who came to hear the information, and there were people who didn’t like what they heard. I think we have to accept that, there are strong feelings in the community about this whole process of the supervised consumption site and the harm reduction policies,” Spearman said.
What the City wanted to accomplish on Monday was to get the evidence out there from recognized professionals who are external to Lethbridge.
Spearman also discussed the members of the public who felt they didn’t have enough time to ask questions, and why ARCHES wasn’t a member of the panel.
“The answer to those questions is ARCHES is really the delivery agent of health policy, not the defenders of that policy. Unfortunately, the process has been such that ARCHES has been wearing a lot of this and in all honesty, I’ve been wearing a lot of it. I’m not responsible for health policy either, my job is community safety and we need to try to respond to the issues of the community that’s compatible with health policy,” Spearman said.
Spearman recognizes that not everyone is going to agree on the solutions to the problems the city faces, he just wants to have procedures followed so councillors can make the best decisions possible when dealing with issues.
“Everybody is expressing strong opinions, and I respect the fact that we live in a democracy and people can have strong opinions, but we need to make sure that as we make decisions moving forward we do that with the best information that’s available,” Spearman continued. “We have to make sure that emotions don’t overtake the argument, we have to look at the facts and move forward on that basis.”
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