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Sundre's emergency committee terms in limbo

Bylaw did not receive unanimous support following discussion

SUNDRE - Council came to an impasse in December over whether to approve the terms of reference for the municipality’s Emergency Management Advisory Committee.

The Municipal Emergency Management Advisory Committee is established to advise council on the development of emergency plans and programs and to provide guidance and direction to the Sundre Emergency Management Agency.

The committee would include all members of Sundre council and the town’s chief administrative officer.

The issue ended up in limbo following a discussion during the last council meeting in December, when Coun. Cheri Funke expressed concerns that the terms were inadequate.

Pointing to a section of the terms that reads, “Council shall complete the municipal elected officials online course,” Funke said, “I don’t believe that’s enough.”

Under the old terms of reference, she said sitting members of the emergency board were required to have basic emergency management training so council can better understand what is expected of the director and staff. The councillor then expressed the opinion that the training requirement should involve “more than just a basic online course.”

Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer, said there had previously been sessions with many stakeholders, and that the question of whether that training should be provided was brought up, with the answer coming back as no.

“So they took that out,” said Nelson.

However, the administrator added that does not mean council cannot pursue additional training.

“We’re saying at a minimum, this is what you must do,” she said, referring to the online course.

But the terms also include a section that reads, “Council shall complete any courses prescribed by the Alberta Emergency Management Agency in accordance of the (Emergency Management) Act,” she said.

Leading up to the discussion Nelson had informed council that she had worked alongside Kevin Heerema, Sundre’s community peace officer and director of emergency management, in drafting the terms for the Town of Sundre’s Emergency Management Advisory Committee. That process also involved a conversation with a representative from Alberta Emergency Management Agency, she said.

“Everything in the terms of reference complied with the act.”

Administration recommended that all of council sit on the committee, as every member of council has a role to play during an emergency, she said, adding elected officials also have an opportunity to review and recommend changes to the emergency management plan.

The first reading passed, with a motion for the second reading initiating the discussion.

“I’m just looking for justification as to why the director is no longer on this committee,” Funke said.

“The director should never be on the Emergency Management Advisory Committee, because the committee advises the emergency management agency,” answered Nelson.

“So that is where the role of the director belongs. The director will still come in and present to the advisory committee.”

Funke also wanted to know how the quorum could be less than half of council if it is a committee of all of council.

“Because the act says it can. You can have a quorum of one,” said Nelson.

In the event of an unfolding emergency that occurs when six members of council are out of town, somebody still needs to be able to act, she said.

That being the case, Coun. Richard Warnock wondered what is outlined in the bylaw directing administration to contact everyone who is available, as opposed to reaching just one member of the committee and calling it good enough.

Nelson said that is among the duties entrusted to the director, who will have a list of all the names of agencies involved during an emergency, “and generally, the first phone call is to council.”

The committee, she added, would generally meet only once a year to advise the agency. The only other time a meeting would be called is at the request of the director or mayor. In the event that only one councillor was available during an emergency, she said, “Whoever is making that resolution for the state of local emergency, you are doing that on the advice of the director. That’s your expert in an emergency.”

Mayor Terry Leslie mentioned a fan-out practice in which councillors who have received word about an emergency can attempt to reach out to one another to establish lines of communication.  

“That’s going to be in the emergency management plan,” said Nelson.

“You’re going to have a fan-out list and procedures to follow,” she said.

The terms of reference, she added, merely outlines minimum requirements, roles and responsibilities.

After making it through the first couple of readings, the bylaw ended up in limbo when Funke opposed presentation for third reading, which requires unanimous consent.  

“That is not carried, and we sit and we wait for third reading at a time in the future,” said Leslie.