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MAP – Thoughts from Alberta CAO’s (part 2 of 2)

What Was Your First Reaction to Being Selected for MAP?

Most CAO’s have a common reaction.  Nice.  There’s one more thing to worry about.  How much time is this going to take?  Kim Neill, CAO for the Town of Hanna says, “The letter that you receive from Municipal Affairs says that you’ve been ‘selected’ to participate in the Municipal Accountability Program, it was sort of funny.” Sometimes we think that getting ‘selected’ is an honour.  In this case municipalities know that they are going to be subject to a pretty thorough legislative compliance process.

Kim adds.  “You’re always nervous when you know that you are going to be evaluated.”  Naturally, you don’t hear CAO’s talking about how excited they are about having more work on their plate, but MAP is also trying to trade short-term pain for long-term gains.

If it’s your first time through the program you will find many more areas to improve than 4 years later.  By the time you get another 4 years down the road many of the issues that have already been addressed will be corrected.  That should make it quite a bit easier for everybody.

What Can you Expect?

While it’s natural to be concerned about having the Ministry sifting through your documents, Rick Binnendyk from the Town of Penhold that received its’ report in June 2018 says that “The focus was on collecting the required documentation under the MGA.  I asked how the Ministry got their list for the review, (Municipal Affairs) said that they went through the MGA and looked for the sections of the Act that included ‘must” or ‘shall” and the list flowed from there.”    

Rick added that, “In our case, they could have found many of the documents on the list by going to our website.  (link to Town of Penhold MAP Report) That would have saved a lot of time.

As the process becomes more routine, the participants are learning more about what to expect.  This is also true for staff from Alberta Municipal Affairs.  Linda Nelson, CAO for the Town of Sundre says “Municipal Affairs was very supportive.  It was helpful because the process gave us a level of confidence that we were moving in the right direction.

What’s the Timing?

In Sundre, we were given notice 2 days later after the Ministry announced that the program was going ahead,” says Linda.  “From there we scheduled the visit from Municipal Affairs in July (just over 3 months later),” she adds.

After Municipal Affairs completes their visit and issues their report, they will ask for a workplan to address the gaps that they have found through their review.  The workplan must be submitted to Municipal Affairs within 8 weeks of the receipt of the report.  If Municipal Affairs agrees with the workplan, the municipality has up to one year to complete all the requirements.

Just how many requirements may you have to complete?  That depends on the state of legislative compliance.  Our research says that you could be like Sundre, Penhold, or Hanna, (a range between 4- 14 gaps) but there are others that have many more.  Taking care of these gaps can be daunting if you are one of the smallest municipalities in the province.  All of those that we spoke to felt that the process was valuable, but like anything it took additional time and effort in order to reach compliance.

Chris Pankewitz from the Village of Warburg says that “a lot of the gaps were because of the updates to the MGA.  We all get a little bit complacent, so it was beneficial to remind everyone including Council – about the requirements.

 Bylaw and Policy and Procedure Review

MAP is designed to be an in-depth review of municipal bylaws and policies.  While every municipality has its own way of doing things the MGA requires certain things to be consistent.  There are mandatory bylaws that municipalities must have, like a Code of Conduct, Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks and one for an Emergency Advisory Committee. 

At the same time, you may have to look closer at approaches to Public Participation, Budget Plans and day to day procedures like advertising requirements and how meetings are organized and documented.

One of the most common gaps was has to do with how Closed Meetings (no longer can be called In-Camera meetings) should be handled.  A good number of municipalities may not have adequate space for the public to gather after a meeting has gone into closed session.  The procedure for going “in and out” of closed sessions was often flagged by the review.  In order to be compliant there needs to be a motion to go into a closed session and another motion (while in closed session) to go back to an open meeting. 

Rick Binnendyk from the Town of Penhold said that while some of the requirements were
a bit picky” he also adds that he “was hoping for a process that provided broader advice for improving overall operations versus a narrower look at legislative compliance.”      

Has MAP changed the way the you do things?

CAO’s agreed that Yes, MAP means that you will need to make changes that will bring your municipality into compliance with the MGA, but it does not fundamentally change the character of your municipality. 

While there are many technical requirements that are uncovered and addressed through the MAP process, it doesn’t limit anyone from finding creative ways to tackle today’s biggest policy issues. 

Kim Neill from Hanna says, “it really doesn’t change that much for us, it took some housekeeping so that we are more compliant.

Councils from across Alberta must face the issues that they consider worth their time.  How they go about reviewing and drafting policy has a lasting impact on how their communities move forward. 

Looking to other municipal operations for comparison is another common way of measuring how you are doing amongst your peers.  There are some great tools for comparing documents, but if you are going to use Google you may be taking more time than you should to find the documents that you need.     

Whether or not you have been through MAP, or are about to go through it – it pays to be prepared.