Despite thinking that January was going to be a slow month, with time to relax in the winter darkness, the opposite proved to be true and it became a busy and very productive month both for Council and myself.
We kicked off January by having a regular Council meeting on the 2nd, where we approved several new human resources policies, as well as our long-anticipated new Community Grants Policy. At the same meeting we approved a request from the Village of Kingston to conduct a feasibility study for a central water system in the community. Several constituent matters consumed the rest of my week as we tried to tie up loose ends from 2017. January 10th a Special Council meeting was held where we awarded the contract to Roscoe Construction for our new municipal complex, and decided to appeal a UARB decision regarding RV's on lake lots on Lake George.
The following week I spent preparing for and hosting two webinars on the parental accommodation recommendations that I have been working on as a board member of UNSM. I was appointed chair of the Parental Accommodations Committee last month, which has been putting together informed, research-based recommendations for the Minister of Municipal Affairs over the period of December and January. The idea is to balance the needs of citizens, representatives, and the municipality when an elected official becomes a new parent and may need time away from their duties to adjust. One of the biggest discussion points was the realization that many people who run for office recognize and respect it as a four-year, 24/7 democratic commitment, so the aim was to allow flexibility for recovery and adjustment while being protected from the attendance requirements and possible penalties or discrimination. I will be presenting the committee's recommendations January 30th to Minister Mombourquette and will update on the status of this when information becomes available. This work took up a large chunk of my time in January and while rewarding and incredibly interesting, I'm happy to have the work complete.
I attended my first Fire Service Advisory Committee meeting January 11th where we began to talk about budget preparation. January 12th we held a full-day Council workshop on our Strategic Plan and conducted a New Year "check-in" to ensure we are all on the same page as a Council. These workshops are helpful for us to understand each other's perspective and catch up on the work we are doing in our communities.
January 15th was spent in Budget and Finance meetings, followed by a very long day the 16th at Committee of the Whole followed by a budget development workshop and the Village of Cornwallis Square meeting that evening. Thursday of that week was spent with more strategic planning in the morning, followed by meeting with staff to prepare myself to take the chair at Planning Advisory Committee the following Monday (as the regular chair was away). That afternoon was the Lake Monitoring Technical Advisory Committee, on which I sit as Council representative and chair. The 19th brought a trip into Halifax with my friend and mentor Mayor Anna Allen to the NS Status of Women Office where we brainstormed the revival of a "Women in Local Government" initiative and looked at improving the experiences of women in local government.
PAC on the 22nd was smooth sailing thanks to some hard preparation, although almost 6 hours of deliberating staff recommendations on Growth Centres in the Kings 2050 MPS/LUB was exhausting! It feels very good to be pushing through many of these recommendations, all of which are answers to the public feedback we received in the fall on the documents and each time we wrap up I feel the completion date becoming more of a reality. One of the frustrating aspects of this process is that many people are waiting on the rules to change to proceed with projects, and it is often disheartening when I am unable to give them a projected date by which the new laws will be adopted, however people are generally very understanding. Thank you for your patience!
The 23rd was spent teleconferencing about parental accommodations after a morning at North Mountain Coffee getting a read on the pulse of Berwick, a town which never seems to slow down with their events and recreation activities (we have committed to taking our son to more events in the town to beat cabin fever- free Tumblebugs gymnastics on Saturday mornings!) It's amazing the things you pick up at beautiful, busy community public spaces (that serve amazing coffee). Wednesday and Thursday were spent at different event for the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers- something I attend for our personal farm interest but also to stay up-to-date with the agriculture community's issues and interests. I squeezed in a Kentville Joint Fire Services Committee meeting that afternoon (as an alternate for another Councillor), and enjoyed department budget discussions with the very organized staff and Chiefs. I reflected upon my first meeting with the group over a year ago and was amazed at how my level of understanding has ballooned about the nuances of fire service delivery in Kings County.
Friday I traveled into Halifax for a monthly UNSM board meeting, where we discussed re-branding (proposed new name: Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, or NSFM), got an update on the MGA (Municipal Government Act) review/rewrite process, discussed the state of film plastics and solid waste organizations, set a date for a Code of Conduct workshop, among many other things. These meetings generally last 3-4 hours and we cover a lot of ground in our discussions. I enjoy them immensely, and find the level of discussion and debate challenging and interesting to participate in. My family and I spent the evening at Eagle Watch, an incredible event in Sheffield Mills organized by the Sheffield Mills Community Association and colleague Meg Hodges. We were able to listen to Mi'kmaq drummers from Glooscap (The Eastern Eagles), have delicious noodles from The Noodle Guy, and mingle with dozens of members of the Kings County community. It was a lovely evening.
This final half-week of January began by participating in a panel at Acadia University called "Mothers and Others: Parenthood and Politics" with Councillor Hodges and Professor Melanee Thomas from the University of Calgary. Once the panel finished I rushed to sign into an online board meeting with Engage NS, my first since being asked to join the board. I have a lot to learn but I am finding it very worthwhile to participate on a not-for-profit board (relatively) unrelated to municipal affairs, and see how such a professional and well-run organization operates behind the scenes. I traveled to Halifax that night where I am currently snowed in, awaiting my meeting with Minister Mombourquette to deliver parental accommodation recommendations. I will be staying in Halifax again this evening to participate in a "Municipal Modernization" session tomorrow with the Mayors, Wardens, CAO's and UNSM Board members for the full day tomorrow.
There you have it. January may have been exceptional in terms of the sheer amount of travelling and meetings that I attended, but it is certainly an accurate representation of the many different initiatives I'm involved with and committees on which I sit. Now to plan for February- three Councillor Community Open Houses (Windermere, South Alton and South Berwick), taking an assertive communication course to try to build personal and professional skills, Quality of Life workshop with Engage NS, among many other things. Cheers to a productive 2018 so far!
At a Special Council Meeting held January 10th, 2018, Kings County Council voted to award the contract to build our new administration building to Roscoe Construction for 5.3 million dollars. My very first action as a Councillor in November 2016 (before I was even knowledgeable about how make a motion) was to move to postpone a decision on the previous tender, as the process had been embroiled in very public controversy and I didn't feel prepared as a Councillor to support the project. When I later voted to support the withdrawing of the tender, and embark on a public consultation process and redesign of the building, it was both daunting and unpopular to many of my constituents. The tender we approved today is the third time the Municipality has attempted to approve construction, and the feeling I was left when the vote was passed with was one of confidence and security, rather than uncertainty and controversy.
I am very proud of my Council for having the courage to re-think and re-imagine this building, while although "just a building", is also a physical testament to our values, an asset to our community, and a piece of infrastructure we must pay to maintain and operate for many years. I am proud to say it is going to be environmentally friendly, large enough to accommodate future growth, and of beautiful design.
This issue was the first of true turbulence that I had to manage as a Councillor, and was not a smooth introduction into the world of public life. However I feel confident it was the right decision to take our time. I believe that the re-design was worth the extra cost and effort to ensure longevity and relevance of the structure; to include an "innovation hub"; to position us to have space to work with our municipal partners on joint projects; and finally to lead by example by setting the bar high for renewable energy and green building technology in this County. It is a relief to have this issue behind us as we move forward to consider our options for a new Public Works building, and follow along anxiously as construction begins on Village Park Drive in Coldbrook.