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There are a some questions I get asked about frequently. Below are my answers to them. If you have others I should add to this list, I would love to hear from you. Additionally, I have provided links to a number of external sites. If you find one that no longer works, please let me know. You can contact me by clicking here.

As with everything else on this website, all opinions or errors belong to me, not to Council or City administration.

What does Council do?

Ok, but what is your actual job?

What boards and committees are you on?

How much do you get paid?

What does the Mayor do? How is he different than a Councillor?

What is "administration"? What does it do?

How does something get before and become approved by Council? What is a committee?

What is Council Committee of the Whole?

Can I take part in City Council meetings?

Why do portions of some meetings occur in private? What does "in-camera" mean?

How Can I contact Council? What should I contact Councillors about?

How does my tax bill get calculated?

What is Priority Based Budgeting?

What does this acronym mean?


What does Council do?

Council has a variety of responsibilities within the community at large and within the organisation of the City of Grande Prairie. These include:

  • Provide input into and ultimately approve the City’s budget

  • Create, review, and update municipal bylaws

  • Create, review, and update the policies governing City programs and services. Council sets the guidelines for these services while administration does the work of delivering them.

  • Advocate for our community to senior levels of government and other entities which invest or might invest in our community

  • Monitor programs and service delivery to ensure they are undertaken in the best way possible and at levels which are best for the community

  • Help communicate City programs, services, successes and challenges to citizens

  • Listen to citizen ideas, concerns, and experiences to inform Council decisions and to provide feedback to administration

City Council as a body has a lot of power. However, Councillors have very little power when working as individuals. Council can vote to give direction to City staff. However, no individual (including the Mayor) is able to give direction on their own.


Ok, but what is your actual job?

All of us on Council approach this job differently. Here’s how I spend my time:

  • Attend meetings to learn, contribute to conversation, and vote. We have an official City Council meeting every two weeks and we meet as a group at other times as needed. There are weekly Council Sub-Committee meetings. Every Councillor is also appointed to several other boards and committees.

  • Prepare for meetings. Most meetings come with a thick reading packet. I not only read and mark these up, but also spend time doing additional reading or talking to people to fully understand the meeting materials.

  • Attend community events. Events are important because they allow me to learn about our community, be available to talk to community members, and show support to community organisations.

  • Go for coffee. I’ve asked to meet with a number of people because I want to learn more about their experiences or an organisation they represent. I’ve also had many people ask to meet with me to ask questions, share a perspective, or express concerns. There are a few rare circumstances that would make it inappropriate for me to meet someone (example: they are part of a case that I might hear as a member of the Subdivision Appeal Board). But generally, I am always open to meeting if you want to chat.

  • Read. I want to make informed votes and propose good ideas, so I spend time studying. Areas of focus have included infrastructure management, procurement best practices, homelessness and addiction, federal infrastructure and housing initiatives, and poking around other municipalities’ websites.

  • Reading, writing and commenting online. I want to make information easily available. I also want to get as many perspectives as I can for our community. So spend time writing for this website and participating in Facebook conversations (especially through the GP Round Table group).

  • Return phone calls and emails.

I aim to work about 35 hours per week for City Council. Every week has been different; you can click here to see a detailed outline of one of my weeks.


What boards and committees are you on?

I have been appointed to the following boards and committees:

  • Community Living Committee: an internal City Council committee responsible for advising Council on: Community Social Development, Culture and Heritage, Eastlink Centre, Fleet, Parks, Recreation and Sport, Revolution Place, Transit, and other matters as referred by Council.

  • Assessment Review Board: responsible for hearing complaints about assessments made on property and businesses.

  • Subdivision & Development Appeal Board: hears appeals regarding decisions made by the City's subdivision and development authorities and renders decisions based on the evidence presented.

  • Inter-City Forum on Social Policy: an organisation used by member municipalities to share information, network, and undertake advocacy on social issues.

  • Regional Recreation Committee: a committee made up of Councillors from the City, County, Hythe, Beaverlodge, Wembley and Sexsmith. It exists to discuss how we can jointly invest in regional recreation opportunities.

  • Joint Regional Emergency Management Committee: provides oversight to a formal partnership setup to allow local municipalities to coordinate their responses to large emergencies or disasters.

Additionally, I have continued my volunteer work with several other local non-profits.


How much do you get paid?

As with all Councillors, my salary is $56 320 per year plus benefits (health etc…). In addition, I can claim a $200 per-diem if I am undertaking a full day of work outside of City limits. I’m not receiving compensation for in-city mileage, my phone, this website, lunch/coffee meetings, and other incidental expenses.

This salary was set by the previous Council based on recommendations from a citizen committee. You can see the committee’s report by clicking here. It includes its rationale for recommending this salary as well as comparisons to other municipalities. Section 5.2 on page 11 is the portion you may be most interested to read.


What does the Mayor do? How is he different than a Councillor?

The Mayor’s primary job is to lead Council. He chairs City Council meetings, makes board and committee appointments, helps organize Council efforts, works with administration to ensure Council’s directives are being carried out, can vote at all City committee meetings, and acts as a spokesperson for Council and the City.

When it comes time to vote on issues, the Mayor is one of nine votes. He has no ability to override the decisions Council makes. He also has some obligation to speak on Council’s behalf, even when he disagrees with its decisions.

One important power the Mayor has is with regards to communicating values. He can make decisions about proclamations, flag raising, and other symbolic actions.

The Mayor also has a full-time position with the City. Councillors' time commitments are not defined, but the remuneration committee found that on the previous Council, the average time worked was equivalent to a  0.7 time position.


What is "administration"? What does it do?

This is a catch-all term that refers to City staff.

If you ever hear something like “administration recommends…” that means “the suggestion of City staff is for Council to…”

Council gives high-level direction. Its job is to set service levels, establish policies, and monitor services. However, it is administration’s job to plan and execute City the programs and services laid out by Council. It is important for Council to not get too involved in the nuts-and-bolts of running the City. This is important because:

  • The Municipal Government Act demands that “a Council must not exercise a power or function or perform a duty that is… assigned to the chief administrative officer or a designated officer”

  • Our time is limited. If we are focusing on operational details, we will not be effective in our important higher level governance roles.

  • Our staff have training, experience, and time Council members do not have. Theoretically, we are the experts on the needs, priorities, and experiences of community members. However, our staff have more tools than Council members to act on these. (One example: I want to see us planting more trees and I plan to advocate for resources to be put towards this. But new trees are unlikely to survive if I pick the species and dictate how to plant them--our experts in the Parks Department should be making those decisions.)

  • Council only acts as a body. Our directives come from majority votes made in public meetings. This is a very important process for many decisions. However, it is also a very slow and expensive process. If administrative decisions had to go through Council, the City’s work would grind to a halt.

Our administration is led by the City Manager (also known as the Chief Administrative Officer). He is the only staff person that Council oversees. In practice, Council has working relationships with all of the City’s senior leadership. However, technically the City Manger is the only employee we ever direct. If Council wants something to happen, it asks the City Manager to get it done. He then directs other employees to plan and execute on the outcomes Council requested.


How does something get before and become approved by Council? What is a committee?

Most bylaws, new policies, appointments, or major changes to City spending come out of a motion made at a City Council meeting (these are held every second Monday evening). To be successful, a motion needs to be voted for by a majority of Council members present (the Mayor counts as one vote).

There are a variety of reasons that Council might begin discussing something. These include:

  • A Councillor added it to our agenda based on a need they see in the community

  • Administration added it to our agenda based on a requirement or need they see

  • A citizen delegation presented to Council and Council wishes to act on their suggestions or concerns

  • The province requires municipalities to make a bylaw about it

  • An agreement we have with another municipality requires us to create a bylaw, endorse something, make an appointment, or undertake other actions

Most of Council’s work begins with a report by administration. City staff do background research and gather technical information to present it to us along with their recommendations on how to move forward. Council has the freedom to accept, modify, or reject any recommendations made by administration.

A report usually gets presented to a committee first. Council has three sub-committees consisting of three Councillors and the Mayor. These committees are: Community Living, Infrastructure & Protective Services, and Corporate Services. You can see what areas of the City each committee is responsible for on page 30 of the Procedure Bylaw.

Discussing a topic at the committee level allows for it to get more discussion than we have time for at a Council meeting. The less formal rules of committees can also allow for better conversation to occur at the early stages of work.

There are some decisions Council has authorized committees to make (eg.: there are many types of development permits that the Infrastructure and Corporate Services Committee can approve). However, in most instances, committee cannot act on its own. After discussing a topic, a committee member can make a motion to make a recommendation to Council. If this motion is supported by a majority of the committee, the recommendation will appear on the next City Council Meeting agenda for further debate and for a vote.

Most of our work starts at the committee level. However, every Councillor has the right to attempt to bypass committee work by making a motion at a regular City Council meeting.
 


What is Council Committee of the Whole?

This is a sub-committee of Council. However, every Councillor is a member and it is chaired by the Mayor. It looks a lot like a City Council meeting. But there are two main reasons that something might get referred to this committee:

  • City Council meetings only happen every two weeks and often cover a lot of business. We might not have time to fully discuss a topic in a normal City Council meeting.

  • Committees have less formal rules of debate. There are some topics where these rules can better facilitate discussion.

Like other sub-committees, the Committee of the Whole cannot make decisions. Instead, it makes recommendations to Council through motions made by one member and supported by a majority of members. These recommendations get added to a regular City Council meeting where they need to again receive majority support to go into effect.


Can I take part in City Council meetings?

You are welcome to attend any City Council or Council Committee meeting. You can also watch our Monday night City Council meetings online. A schedule, agendas, past meeting minutes, and webcast links can be found by clicking here.

Anyone is welcome to make a presentation at a City Council meeting. Anyone is also welcome to request to speak at a committee meeting.

Usually you will be asked to make your presentation at the beginning of the meeting, even if it has to do with a topic on the agenda for later in the meeting. You will be asked to speak for five minutes or less. Afterwards, Council members will be given an opportunity to ask you questions. Administration may also be given an opportunity to respond to what you have said.

If you are part of a group or organisation, there is no limit on how many people can come to observe the meeting. However, generally every group is only allowed up to two spokespersons.

If you wish to speak to City Council during on a Monday evening when we meet, you can just show up at a meeting. However, it is helpful if you let us know you are coming by filling out a Delegation Request Form. You must fill out this form if you wish to present to a committee. It can be found by clicking here.

We appreciate hearing from the public; it is very helpful to Council’s work. Our meeting chairs are accustomed to people who may not have done much public speaking; don’t let a lack of experience deter you from presenting! If you want more information or some tips on preparing a presentation, I’d be very open to helping you out.


Why do portions of some meetings occur in private? What does "in-camera" mean?

Most Council and committee meetings are open to the public. However, sometimes a topic will come up that causes the meeting to go “in-camera,” which means “in private.” This happens because there is information being discussed that, if public, could harm individuals or the public interest. Topics which require non-public discussion include but are not limited to:

  • Private information about a business working with the City

  • Pending legal matters

  • Negotiating strategies and positions

A meeting can only be held in-camera if a motion to do so is made and agreed to by a majority of Council or committee members present. This motion must include a reason for needing privacy which is supported by a specific section of the provincial Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (see Division 1, Part 2).

While in-camera, only the topic specified in the motion can be discussed. Council and committee can receive information and have discussion. However, they cannot make any decisions. Once they are ready to make an action or move onto another topic, the meeting is reopened to the public. Only then can motions resulting from the in-camera discussion be made.


How can I contact Council? What should I contact Councillors about?

You can find all of our contact info by clicking here. You can also contact me at dbressey@cityofgp.com or 780-402-4166.

For the most part, I am happy to talk to anyone about anything.* However, there are topics where you will be best served if you to contact City staff. You can reach them through the Citizen Contact Centre at 780-538-0300 or citizencontactcentre@cityofgp.com.

As an individual Councillor, I am not able to give any sort of direction to City employees. If you have an operational request, it is usually best to contact the relevant department directly.

If you need information, Councillors can often track it down. But obtaining it can be cumbersome for us. Councillors need to work through the City’s senior management while citizens can often talk to staff and departments directly. Getting information through the Citizen Contact Centre will usually be quicker and require less City resources than getting it through a Councillor. Additionally, when you initiate contact yourself you can directly ask any questions that arise.

So what should you talk to Council about? You will best be served by contacting Council if:

  • you want to know why Council made a certain decision

  • you want to give input into an upcoming decision

  • you want to express disagreement with a Council decision

  • you have overall concerns with a City program, service, or policy

  • you think the City should start doing something it is not already doing

  • you have tried to talk to City staff and have not received a satisfactory answer

What should you contact staff about? I’m happy to talk about most things, even if my answer turns out to be, “I suggest calling the Citizen Contact Centre.” But in general, you are likely to get the best results by contacting staff rather than Council if:

  • you have suggestions for small improvements to a City service

  • you want information about how to access a City program or how it is run

  • you support a service or program in general but have specific concerns about its implementation

  • you want to know more about the details of some aspect of City operations

*The exceptions: there are some topics I can’t talk about (eg., a pending legal matter) and some individuals that it would be inappropriate for me to meet with for a period of time (eg., someone that will be part of a Subdivision Appeal Board or Assessment Review Board hearing that I will be sitting on)


How does my tax bill get calculated?

You can get an in-depth explanation of taxation by clicking here. You can also read a simpler version of how property tax works by clicking here. The short version:

Council sets the operating and capital budgets for the City. These include all the projected and approved spending the City will undertake. They are added together to determine how much revenue is needed for the year. Non-taxation sources of revenue (ex: projected user fees, provincial and federal grants) are subtracted from this number to give the amount of revenue needed from property taxes. Administration then determines the tax rates needed to raise this revenue. Council approves the tax rates by passing a bylaw.

The City assesses a market value for your property. This is multiplied by the tax rate to determine how much you owe in municipal property taxes.

When you hear discussion about changes to tax amounts, it usually reference to the final calculated amount you will pay.

The City also collects property taxes on behalf of the province and the Grande Spirit Foundation. To get an estimate of how much of your taxes go towards each entity, you can use the City tax estimator by clicking here.


What is Priority Based Budgeting?

This is a budgeting tool that we will be using for 2019. It has generated tremendous success in many other municipalities across North America. It is a system to assign every City service an accurate cost and a ranking based on how it aligns with strategic priorities set by Council. I have provided a brief overview of it here.


What does this acronym I heard mean?

There are a ton of acronyms associated with municipal government. Below are some of the most common ones. Let me know if there are some I should add.

  • ASP- Area Structure Plan. A bylaw adopted by Council to govern the development of an area of the City. This is a general plan for the future land uses and infrastructure in the area.

  • AUMA- Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. A provincial association which provides advice, business services, networking, professional development, and advocacy for Alberta municipalities.

  • CCW- Council Committee of the Whole. Click here for more information.

  • CLT- Corporate Leadership Team. The senior administrative leadership of the City. This is made up of the City Manager, the Directors of Community Living, Corporate Services, and Infrastructure & Protective Services, and the Human Resources manager.

  • FCM- Federation of Canadian Municipalities. A national advocacy group representing Canadian municipalities.

  • ICF- Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework. This is a new requirement the province is mandating for by 2020. It is a series of agreements between neighbouring municipalities on how they will collaborate on land use planning and service delivery. Every municipality must work these out with any other municipalities they border, they are also allowed to work them out with other regional municipalities.

  • IPS- Infrastructure and Protective Services. One of Council’s sub-committees.

  • MGA- Municipal Government Act. This is the primary piece of provincial legislation governing how municipalities are structured and operate. You can read it by clicking here.

  • RFP- Request for Proposal. A document soliciting proposals to provide a service or sell an asset to the service or to utilize City assets.