Wood Buffalo municipal councillors no longer full-time, reverse decision after public outcry

Wood Buffalo municipal councillors are no longer full-time after vigorous debate during a special council meeting on Wednesday that saw members of the public voice their disappointment and anger.

The matter has become contentious and sparked public outrage over a lack of consultation after councillors voted 6-3 on June 11 in a surprise move to change their position from being part-time to becoming full-time councillors.

Coun. Kendrick Cardinal had put forward the motion last month and made a subsequent one to waive the two-week notice period for the motion, and opted instead to push the motion through that evening.

That motion was approved and meant the public was not offered an opportunity to speak on the change in status.

The public had the opportunity on Wednesday to speak to council with many saying the main issue was not letting councillors be full-time but rather that it was done hastily and without community engagement and research.

"You were voted into your positions that you're in now because the community trusted you. I do believe now that trust has been broken," Amanda Ayers-Clements, a Fort McMurray resident of ten years, told council.

Many raised concerns about the lack of thought in defining what the public could expect from a councillor who is full-time and the financial ramifications for taxpayers on making that change.

"Public debate was skipped because you all knew what the response from the public was going to be. You now have possibly irrevocably lost the trust of the public that you ... pledged to serve," Ayers-Clements said.

Wednesday's meeting saw two motions take place.

The first was put forward by councillor Funky Banjoko in an attempt to rectify the situation by having the June motion rescinded. The motion passed 9-2.

"It is not shameful to make a mistake. What is shameful is not to find a way to correct them," Banjoko said on why she felt it necessary to put forward her motion.

"You came out to show that you are heard," Banjoko said addressing the public. "This is the beauty of democracy."

The second motion came near the end of the meeting, as Cardinal attempted to once again push a motion for full-time status.

"Full-time councillors can be fully dedicated, dedicate their time to the role without distractions or secondary employment, this allows them to focus entirely on the needs of the municipality," Cardinal said as he noted the merits of why he thought councillors should be full-time.

"Although full-time positions may seem more costly …the long-term benefits of improved governments and more effective policy ... implementation can lead to greater greater economic efficiency saving for the municipality," Cardinal asserted.

His motion was subsequently struck down 8-3.

Council discussed exploring having an third-party entity look at the merits of full-time councillors and better engage with the public on this specific issue in future meetings.