Thursday, October 29, 2009

Help Improve the City's Website - get a gift certificate!

We need your help... and we're willing to make it worth your while!

Over the years the City of GP has been recognized as a leader in e-government, we've got just about anything you could want on our site and all that info is generally pretty useful. Unfortunately, over time the internet has changed and so have people's expectations of what the city should offer through it's site. As those expectations have changed I think our city's website has remained pretty much static.

So, to address this the city has started a process to redesign the way the website works, we want to make it more user friendly & more responsive to the needs of residents.

Here's where I need your help.... We are looking for people to participate in a survey with our consultant. They will look at how you interact with the site in a pretty cool online & telephone survey.

And, here's the cool part: for your help you'll earn a $25 gift certificate to!

The details:
The interview takes place over the phone, but participants will need to be at a computer (Windows XP/VIsta) as well. The software allows us to see and record the participant's desktop as they use the City website and record the phone conversation. As people use the GP site we may ask them to show us some things so we can watch how they interact with the site. We record the session because people's real words and actions are far more powerful than anything we can say. We find the clips very useful for presenting back to clients.

- 45 minute interviews
- People get a $25 gift certificate at as a thank-you for participating.

We’re looking for a variety of participants including people who:
- are between the ages of 18 and 24, or
- run businesses in Grande Prairie, or
- belong to community groups, or
- are residents over the age of 25

To get involved you can check out the ad our consultants placed on Kijiji or contact them by email at or phone at 1.800.670.7025

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Olympic Torch Starts It's Journey to GP

The Olympic Torch has just started it's journey from Greece on it's way to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

On it's way the torch relay will cover most of Canada and as part of that it will make a stop here in Grande Prairie on November 6th. The local committee has been working with VANOC planning the visit for quite a while and just yesterday they were able to release the route the runners and torch will cover in our city.

I'll be coming home from the AUMA convention to be here for it - and I've already picked out the corner where I'm going to watch the run... have you picked your spot?

Click here for the city media release on the torch route - the map is on a link at the bottom of the media release.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Council Agenda for October 19th, 2009

Tonight's meeting has lots of interesting items on the agenda. We're actually starting a little early with a council committee of the whole to discuss what the philosophy towards infill development in older neighbourhoods should be in the MDP.

It's also a once yearly meeting called the Organizational Meeting where we approve the schedule of meetings for the year and the appointments to the various committees and boards that council members sit on. We'll do all that first and then continue with the regular meeting agenda below. I've made some comments on a few items of interest - you can see them in yellow like this.



3.1 Council receive the minutes of the Minutes of the City Council Meeting Held October 5, 2009


5.1 Mr. B. Manz, Manager, Aquatera Utilities Inc. re: Solid Waste Franchise Fee and Utility Bylaw

6.1 Bylaw C-1100-147, to Amend the Land Use Bylaw – Schedule “B” Signs to allow a billboard sign on City property at the Pete Eager Fire Station located at Lot 1, Plan 012- 1228

Council give Bylaw C-1100-147, to Amend the Land Use Bylaw, second reading.
Council give Bylaw C-1100-147, to Amend the Land Use Bylaw, third reading.
There may be some opposition to this change. The current sign bylaw doesn't allow for billboard signs on city property and this amendment would make a special allowance for a billboard - only on this specific site mind you. I'm not sure there's a compelling reason to allow it.


9.1 2010 Olympic Torch Relay Event Committee – September 30, & October 8, 2009
Council receive the minutes of the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay Event Committee meetings held September 30, and October 8, 2009.

9.2 General Government Services Committee – October 7, 2009
Council receive the minutes of the General Government Services Committee meeting held October 7, 2009.

9.2.1 2010 Olympic Torch Relay Event Funding
Council approve additional funding in the amount of $32,500 allocated from the Recreation and Community Development Program Budget, for the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay Event.
We are waiting for word on some grant applications we've submitted to the province. In the mean time administration wants to make sure we have the money in place for the Nov 6th event. They are suggesting we cover it internally in part by using funds that were budgeted for the operation of the new community gyms. We had budgeted for 12 months operating but with the gyms opening in September we'll only to pay for about 4 months. If the grants come in after the event all the better.

9.2.2 Marketing of Former Germain Park Property
Council direct Administration assign a market price for the former Germain Park Property and market the property for sale, and report back at a future Committee meeting.
I'll be voting against this motion. If this was passed it would see the land go up for sale with absolutely no conditions to encourage development. My greatest concern is that we see something positive happen on the site - SOON. Worst case scenario; Selling the land this way could lead to an absentee landowner from out of the city buying it and sitting on it until the market improves in hopes of flipping it for a quick profit. That's no help to our downtown and if we can't improve downtown I don't see why we would sell it.

For more information you can see the whole Germain Park timeline here but simply put I think this is a bad idea, we can do better.

9.2.3 Request to Cancel Tax Penalty
Council deny the request to cancel the July, 2009 tax penalty of $174.97 on Lot 56, Block 2, Plan 0720778.

9.2.4 Borrowing Bylaw C-1200
Council give first reading to Borrowing Bylaw C-1200, in the amount of $2,092,000.00 for Reconstruction of the Prairie Art Gallery.
Total project cost is estimated to be $9,957,000 with the balance broken out like this: $1,280,000 from insurance, $5,585,000 from provincial grants and $1,000,000 from outside parties (the Prairie Gallery organization).

9.2.5 Temporary Borrowing Bylaw C-1236
Council give three readings to Borrowing Bylaw C-1236, in the amount of $2,000,000.00 to meet current expenditures.
This is something the city does every year to manage our cash flow. It's basically a line of credit that covers any small gaps that may occur between when our cash investments mature and when we need money - it very rarely gets used.

9.2.6 Cancellation of Regularly Scheduled Meetings
Council cancel the November 3, 2009 Public Works Committee meeting and the November 4, 2009 General Government Services Committee meeting.
Many of us will be in Calgary for the AUMA convention this week so there wouldn't be enough people to have the meetings. I'll be flying down late Monday and coming back Thursday so I can be here for the Olympic Torch on Friday morning.

9.2.7 Strategic Priorities Chart
Council approve the Strategic Priorities Chart as revised.

9.2.8 Bylaw C-962P, to Amend the Procedure Bylaw – Deputy Mayor
Council give three readings to Bylaw C-962P to amend the Procedure Bylaw with respect to Deputy and Acting Mayor appointments.
This item came from Mayor Logan and it aims to change the system back to what it was before 2004. It used to be that after an election one Alderman was appointed to be Deputy Mayor and would fill that roll that for the whole 3 year term. Starting with the 2004 council we implemented a system where each Alderman serves as Deputy Mayor for a period of about 6 weeks through the year.

I think the 2004 change (to our current system) was positive for two reasons;
First and most importantly, it treats each Alderman equally - We are all elected to the same position and have the same number of votes and are supposed to have the same amount of influence on council decisions. Appointing one Alderman as Deputy Mayor elevates them to a position that infers a special status, different than the other people were supposedly elected to serve in the same position. Each council member holds the same position under the law and should be treated as equals.

Second, it works to minimize risk and clarifies what would happen in a scenario where both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are unable to fulfill their duties. Today if both the Mayor and the scheduled Deputy Mayor are unavailable then the next person in charge would the be Alderman who is next on the schedule of deputy mayors- simple. Under the back-in-the-day system if both those two are out what is council supposed to do? I guess we get together and have a meeting to decide and appoint someone to do the job. In an emergency I don't think this would run as smoothly as just moving to the next person on the list.

9.3 Protective Services Committee – October 13, 2009
Council receive the minutes of the Protective Services Committee meeting held October 13, 2009.

9.3.1 AUMA Resolution - STARS
Council forward a letter to the AUMA Board addressing questions from the Mayors’ Caucus and requesting AUMA urge the Government of Alberta, to leverage the success of the collaborative STARS model into the fully integrated health care system being developed for all Albertans.

9.3.2 Revisions to Parking Model (Montrose Area)
1. approve that pay by space machines be installed for public parking at the Montrose parking lot,
2. approve that the City formally request the Alberta Government to negotiate new terms pertaining to the lease of the parking spaces for Court House visitors,
3. establish the following fees for off-street parking leases:
a. $25/month for a non-energized surface stall,
b. $30/month for an energized surface stall,
c. $50/month for underground/covered parking stall
4. approve installation of parking meters on 99 Street between 99 and 101 Avenues,
5. direct Administration conduct a review of policies pertaining to parking fees charged to City employees and RCMP detachment personnel, and,
6. direct Administration work with the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee to develop recommendations to update the Downtown Parking Strategy.

9.4 Community Development Committee – October 13, 2009
Council receive the minutes of the Community Development Committee meeting held October 13, 2009.

9.4.1 Grande Prairie Storm Request for Additional Office Space at Crystal Centre
Council approve the Grande Prairie Storm request to place a temporary office trailer on the Crystal Centre plaza.
I'm supportive but uncomfortable about this. I attended at the committee meeting when this came forward and I said at the time that I'd prefer to see a better solution that would be more permanent. That could mean renovations to the building and could be costly but I think we need to know what the ultimate solution is before we approve an interim solution. Admin said they'd be coming forward with the ultimate solution in the next little while but I'd feel more comfortable approving something temporary if I knew how long it would actually need to be there.

9.4.2 Prairie Gallery Building Committee Meeting held October 1, 2009
Council authorize Teeple Architects submit applications for architectural awards, including the Governor General Award, for the Montrose Cultural Centre.

9.4.3 Affordable Housing RFP 21-431-09
Council approve Affordable Housing RFP 21-431-09 be awarded to the Grande Prairie Women’s Residence Association in the amount of $2,234,583.00 for the development of fifteen (15) affordable housing units.
This is for a second stage shelter at Odyssey House that has been in the works for a number of years. It would provide longer term accommodations for women escaping abusive relationships. Right now people can only stay at Odyssey House for a few months and after that they are on their own, often falling back in to bad situations because there's simply no where else to go, or because they don't have the skills or money to get a place of their own. The second stage shelter would provide living spaces where people could stay for 1 to 3 years. The money is 100% from a provincial housing grant.

9.4.4 Municipal Sustainability Housing Program and Capital Enhancement Program (Block Funding $2M) – Affordable Housing Plan
Council approve the 2009/10 Affordable Housing Plan in the amount of $2M.
A plan for money from another provincial housing grant program.

9.4.5 Elks Lodge #285, Association Five-Year Agreement Renewal
Council approve the Elks Lodge #285, Five-year Agreement Renewal.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Germain Park Sale Timeline

With the possible sale of the former Germain Park lands coming back on the GGS committee agenda today I thought I'd provide a little background information on the timeline of council decisions over the years that related to selling it. (note this doesn't include any motions that were made in regards to demolishing it in the first place - that's a whole other separate issue which is worth discussing... but it isn't the point of this post.)

The information below is taken directly from the report that was presented at the GGS committee this morning and I added the motions from the most recent council meeting that sent the issue back to the committee agenda today. My comments are in italics.

The following is a chronology of Council decisions regarding Plan 1410AC, Block 5, Lots 33-36 (the legal description of the former Germain Park) Inclusive:

July 2, 2002 – Germain Park Land Classification:
MOVED by Alderman Mazer Council classify Germain Park as “marketable” and direct Administration to obtain a “fair” market value appraisal prior to any further decisions being made by Council. CARRIED.

July 4, 2005 – Germaine Park:
Alderman Rice declared a conflict of interest as Manager of the Downtown Association, abstained from discussion and voting and vacated Council Chambers.

Alderman Given declared a conflict of interest as his employer has an interest in the matter, abstained from discussion and voting and vacated Council Chambers.
(At this point I was employed at Hi-Tech Business Systems, across from Germain Park, and the owner had expressed an interest in buying it. As soon as that happened I excused myself from the discussion and motions related to the park and it's sale so that I wouldn't be in a conflict of interest situation.)

MOVED by Alderman Logan Council designate the General Government Services Committee as the Committee to deal with all issues pertaining to Germaine Park.

August 29, 2005 – Germain Park RFP-16-200-05:
Alderman Rice declared a conflict of interest on Items #9.4.1 and #9.4.2, as Manager of the Downtown Association, abstained from discussion and voting and vacated Council Chambers.

Alderman Given declared a conflict of interest on Items #9.4.1 and #9.4.2, as his employer has an interest in the matter, abstained from discussion and voting and vacated Council Chambers.

MOVED by Alderman Mazer Council reject all proposals submitted for RFP-16-200-05 for the Sale of Germain Park and any deposits provided be returned accordingly.

November 21, 2005 – Agreement with the Devonian Foundation re: Germain Park:
Alderman Given declared a conflict of interest as his employer has taken a position on this matter, abstained from discussion and voting and vacated Council Chambers.

MOVED by Alderman Mazer Council approve the Agreement between the City and the Devonian Foundation regarding Germain Park, as presented.

August 28, 2006 – Downtown Land (Former Germain Park):
MOVED by Alderman Mazer Council direct Administration to offer the property, formerly known as Germain Park, for sale using a Request for Proposal process, with final acceptance subject to Council approval. CARRIED.
(I finished working at Hi-Tech in December of 2005 when I ran in the federal election and so from here on out I was free to be involved in the decisions with out being in a conflict of interest.)

February 26, 2007 – RFP-10-200-06 – Former Germain Park Parcels:
MOVED by Alderman Mazer Council reject all proposals submitted for RFP-10-200-06 for the Downtown Development Opportunity of Downtown Lands (former Germain Park).

June 30, 2008 – Former Germaine Park Parcels Development Options:
MOVED by Alderman Given Council approve marketing the former Germaine Park parcels for sale and:
1. direct Administration obtain a certified appraisal of Lots 33, 34, 35 and 36, Block 5, Plan 1410AC,
2. set the sale price at fair market value,
3. retain the services of a local realtor who specializes in commercial properties, and further,
4. approve that the City enter into an acceptable offer to purchase, containing legal counsel’s recommendation of an appropriate covenant for timelines for development with all proceeds less appraisal, advertising, legal fees and negotiated realtor commission to be added to the Land Reserve.

This motion above is where I think things started to go sideways. Both council and city staff mishandled the issue at this point and unfortunately I'm the one that made the motion. The mistake on council's behalf (that I, or at least one of us, should have caught) was that point number 4.

When we asked for "legal council's recommendation of an appropriate covenant for timelines for development..." we weren't clear enough. We should have asked for those recommendations to come back to council for approval BEFORE the property was ever listed with a real estate agent. As it turned out the city solicitor recommended that the buyer should have to agree to getting a development permit within 5 years and completing construction within 2 years after that. The problem is that council never actually saw those conditions before the property was listed - if we had we would have had a chance to correct them into something that would have seen development happen sooner. I know I would have fought for that anyhow - what's the point of selling it only to have the risk of someone buying it and NOT do anything with it for 5 years?

The second and probably smaller, problem that happened was that the property didn't actually get listed until January of 2009 - 7 months after council passed the motion above. In the meeting in June we were told that the appraisal on the land would be approximately $295,000. When finally listed for sale in January the appraisal at that time showed the property dropping in value to $195,000 and council was never made aware of that before the property was listed. I'm still not sure why there was a 7 month delay in getting the property up for sale.

April 6, 2009 – Offer to Purchase Proposal (Former Germain Park):
MOVED by Alderman Minhas Council:
1. approve to enter into the Commercial Real Estate Purchase Contract as submitted by Select Do-All Maintenance Ltd. to purchase Plan 1410AC, Block 5, Lots 33-36 inclusive, for the amount of $195,000 which contains legal counsel’s recommendation of an appropriate covenant for timelines for development, and,
2. approve all sale proceeds less legal fees, previously negotiated realtor commission and costs to prepare the Real Property Report and Phase 1, Environmental Site Assessments be added to the Land Reserve.

This is where council saw the terms and conditions of the sale including the 5/7 year timeline and the price. At this point we had an offer that met the full price we were asking for and it was now up to council to sign off and agree to sell the property. The only way council can officially do anything is to pass an official motion in a public meeting - think of that motion as council's signature on a contract.

There were only 8 of us at this meeting and the vote was a 4 to 4 tie which is the same result as a 9 to 1 vote against - the motion was defeated. Council declined to sign off on the sale.

June 3, 2009 GGS meeting, the Committee:
MOVED by Mayor Logan the Committee:
Receive the correspondence from the Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce, concerning Germaine Park, for information and supply to the Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce the City’s existing policy and the information that the current listing expires June 11, 2009.


MOVED by Mayor Logan the Committee:
Direct administration prepare a report outlining options for Germaine Park, including but not limited to, extension of the listing for sale, a new listing for sale with amended conditions, reverting development proposals and returning ownership and maintenance of land, assuming that there is no offer before the expiry date.


September 21st, 2009 City Council - Former Germain Park Property Status
MOVED by Alderman Minhas Council direct Administration declare that Plan 1410AC. Block 5, Lots 33-36 inclusive, (former Germain Park) be defined as non-marketable.

For: Alderman Given
Opposed: Mayor Logan, Aldermen Blackmore, Deimert, Gustafson, Minhas, Radbourne and Wong

MOVED by Alderman Radbourne Council reaffirm the former Germain Park as marketable.

For: Mayor Logan, Aldermen Blackmore, Deimert, Gustafson, Minhas, Radbourne and Wong
Opposed: Alderman Given

MOVED by Alderman Radbourne Council direct Administration to bring forward a report to the General Government Services Committee outlining marketing methods and conditions for sale of the former Germain Park property.

MOVED by Alderman Minhas Council direct Administration research the option of development of a parking lot located at Plan 1410AC. Block 5, Lots 33-36 inclusive, (former Germain Park), and provide a report at a future Committee.
For: Mayor Logan, Aldermen Deimert, Given and Gustafson Opposed: Aldermen Blackmore, Minhas, Radbourne and Wong

GGS Committee Agenda for October 7th

WOW - I can't believe it's been over a month since my last post! Life has been pretty busy for the last while with getting engaged and moving but I think things have normalized a bit and I should be back on a more regular schedule.

Speaking of a regular schedule, today is the regular day for our General Government Services committee meeting. The meeting is a 10am at city hall. We have a loaded agenda today with a lot of big items. Check out older GGS agendas here.

As always, the names you see below the agenda items are the staff members who are presenting the report on that item. My quick comments are in italics.

1. “In Camera” (land)
A. Ross, Land Manager

2.Marketing of Former Germain Park Property
A. Ross, Land Manager
Yep, it's back. Council voted to continue trying to sell the property (I voted against that motion but lost) so now we are back discussing what terms and conditions we'll put on any sale. I'll be arguing that the terms must see something happen on the site in a relatively short time period as I think if we're going to sell it (which I disagree with) then something needs to be built there sooner, rather than later. This land has become a detriment to the down town rather than an asset.

3.Request to Cancel Tax Penalty
K. Stephenson, Property TaxCoordinator
A request to cancel a tax penalty of $174.97 because (as near as I can tell) someone failed to notify us of an address change and they didn't get their tax notice on time. So, now they don't want to pay the penalty for late payments. I will likely vote not to cancel the late fees.

4.Aquatera Waste Management Facility
G. Scerbak, City Manager
This is a BIG issue, in fact I don't have enough time to write about it fully but simply put: one of the reasons Aquatera has lost money of late is because not all the garbage from the city is going to the city landfill. Much of it, especially from the north end and from multi-family (like apartments) has been going to the county landfill. The problem is each load that is lost actually represents lost revenue for Aquatera. So the question is how do we fix this? I have an idea but I thing the report here is going another direction.

5.Borrowing Bylaw C-1200
D. Sauve, Senior Financial Analyst
For the reconstruction of the Prairie Art Gallery. A total cost of $9,957,000. $2,092,000 of that will be borrowed (like a mortgage) and the additional $7,865,000 will come from grants, insurance and the Prairie Gallery.

6.Temporary Borrowing Bylaw C-1236
D. Sauve, Senior Financial Analyst
This basically a $2 million line of credit that the city has taken out every year since 1998. It's there just in case we need it to cover any gaps in our operating cash flow. I think we rarely, if ever, use it.

7.Cancellation of Regularly Scheduled Meetings
J. Ferguson, Legislative Services Manager
Most of council will be at the AUMA convention from November 3rd to 6th so we are cancelling two committee meetings that happen in the same period - Nov 3rd Public Works and Nov 4th GGS.

8.Strategic Priorities Chart
J. Ferguson, Legislative Services Manager

9.Deputy Mayor/Acting Mayor
J. Ferguson, Legislative Services Manager

10. City Matters
J. Ferguson, Legislative Services Manager

11.Other Business


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