Calgary city council's 'working together' session will have to wait

Due to less than full attendance, Monday's council meeting has been cancelled. It was to include a closed-door session on helping council improve how it works together.

Lack of attendance by councillors prompts cancellation of Monday's meeting

Council members were to meet behind closed doors on Monday for a 'working together' session with a facilitator. (CBC)

It will take a bit longer for city council to have what its own members call its "Kumbaya" moment.

Council members were to meet behind closed doors on Monday and work with a facilitator who has the job of leading them through a "working together" session.

However, after several councillors indicated they would not be attending, Mayor Naheed Nenshi decided to postpone the meeting.

Coun. Sean Chu intended to go to the meeting but said he's not disappointed it won't be happening on Monday.

"To me, it's a waste of time. We are who we are," said the councillor for Ward 4. 

He views the session as an attempt by Nenshi — who arranged for the facilitator to come in at council's request — to tamp down divisions among the group.

Chu isn't sure that's really possible.

Coun. Sean Chu says he was planning to attend Monday's meeting but isn't upset it's been cancelled. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"You can always learn from Kumbaya," said Chu of the spiritual folk music song.

"I don't think people can change that much but I just want to emphasize not everybody agreeing on everything is actually healthy."

Still, Chu said council members need to learn to treat each other with respect, even if they don't agree on something.

Sometimes it gets testy

As with past councils, there have been several fractious moments around the council table. 

There have been calls for apologies and requests for investigations by the integrity commissioner.

In December, 14 members voted to eject Coun. Jeromy Farkas from a meeting after he posted a photo of a vote card on Facebook for a vote that didn't actually take place.

Most members of council signed a complaint, calling on the integrity commissioner to investigate the councillor, who is serving his first term at city hall.

Farkas said that he was looking forward to Monday's working together session.

Coun. Jeromy Farkas was ejected from a meeting by his colleagues for violating the council code of conduct. (James Young/CBC)

"There's been quite a bit of tension on various files in the past year. We saw with things like the budget, the Olympics, even with my ejection from city council," said Farkas. 

"So I think it's really important for us to come together and see where the common ground is."

Disappointing for some

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she shares the disappointment that Monday's meeting has been cancelled. 

She said this is the second time the special session has been postponed.

But she understands why it's being delayed. "Without all of council present or at least a large majority, a session like this won't be as useful as it could be," said Gondek.

"There's only 15 of us. It's important to be at things like this, especially when you're talking about working collaboratively." 

Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek says the meeting was to be about council working together as a whole, rather than singling out individuals. (CBC)

She rejects the idea that this session came about because of any specific council member.

"This is as much about me and everybody else working together. This has never been about a single member of council," said the Ward 3 councillor.

Council completes survey

As part of preparing for the session with the facilitator, council members were asked to fill out a survey.

Several councillors say it took them about 30 minutes to complete the document.

They were asked whether they agree or disagree with questions like: "I would enjoy spending an entire day alone with my thoughts," and "I sometimes get a kick out of breaking the rules and doing things I'm not supposed to do."

Coun. Shane Keating filled out a council questionnaire but says he didn't plan on attending Monday's session. (CBC)

Coun. Shane Keating told CBC News he completed the questionnaire but decided not to attend Monday's meeting because he has other council business to prepare for later in the week.

He said there were still enough council members willing to go to the meeting for the session to go ahead so he's not sure why the meeting was cancelled by the mayor.

"If we're going have have discussions on how council members should work together, taking accountability for behaviour would set the tone for future discussions," said the councillor for Ward 12.

The working together session with the facilitator is expected to be rescheduled for a council meeting in March. 


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