Opportunity to provide loaner life jackets needs more study

A proposal from the province to provide free loaner life jackets to beach goers through the town’s Beach Ambassador booth

A proposal from the province to provide free loaner life jackets to beach goers through the town’s Beach Ambassador booth in Centennial Park was turned down by councillors unofficially despite some support.

The offer was made by Grant Santo, regional operations manager, East Central Region, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, councillors heard during a special meeting last Wednesday.

However the discussion got mired in technicalities even before it made it to the agenda.

The special meeting was called to discuss a legal matter “Tender Award Review”, according to a notice sent to councillors and posted on the door of the town office.

Mayor Susan Samson asked councillors to add the item to the agenda, but was rebuffed by Councillor Rick Grimson who stated the Municipal Government Act indicates only the matter for which the meeting was called may be discussed.

(The act states “no matter other than that stated in the notice calling the special council meeting may be transacted at the meeting unless the whole council is present at the meeting and the council agrees to deal with the matter in question.”)

Councillors Ken MacVicar and Graham Parson were absent from the meeting.

Despite that Samson included the item “for information purposes” and Joanne Gaudet, the town’s communications officer, provided the update.

Part of Samson’s concern was that councillors had previously cancelled their Aug. 12 meeting and wouldn’t be meeting again until Aug. 26 leaving it too late in the season to deal with the offer.

Following the drowning July 20, the province wanted to implement a program using the Beach Ambassador hut location for a sign out location for free life jackets, she said.

“It’s a great location for information, but I reminded him of the size. I would see an issue if there were more than six life jackets.” Gaudet added, “I think it’s an opportunity to work with Alberta Parks. He (Santo) did mention future plans for a kiosk down there. There’s the potential to increase visitor information services. Beach Ambassadors are capable of doing the sign out.

“They’re coming with a presentation, this is just background information,” she stated.

Samson added that Santo had told her there are 15 to 17 of the kiosks up and running around the province and they have been “very well received”.

A government information bulletin, issued July 30, indicated five new life-jacket loaner stations were opening at provincial parks in Alberta this year.

“The life jacket loaner station programs are self-serve kiosks, where visitors can borrow life jackets and return them after use. Life jackets are available at no cost in infant to adult sizes,” said the bulletin. The kiosks also contain water safety messages. “Introduced in 2010, the loaner stations serve as a visual reminder to visitors to wear a life jacket.”

Councillor Sean McIntyre began discussion of the offer stating it’s a “fantastic idea” but cautioning “I think this might have policy implications including how often (Beach Ambassadors) are at the hut. I think I would be careful if they’re available sometimes but not others.” He added that as a parent with growing children he’s found public facilities which used to charge for rental of life jackets are now making them available free.

Samson urged councillors to consider a trial period and then look at a report after Labour Day.

Gaudet added they need to consider what the role of Beach Ambassadors would be. “We’ve worked really hard to get them out of the booth.”

“I like the information service, it’s really increased a lot this year,” said Councillor Dale Plate. “Maybe the province would pay for one person next year.”

Grimson stated a concern they may be competing with private enterprise while agreeing it’s “not a bad idea”.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” said Councillor Laverne Asselstine. “But I don’t think it’s appropriate to jump into all of a sudden. I think there has to be some thought process. If the program is up and running why didn’t they introduce it to us in the spring.”

Councillors weren’t provided with a written staff report.

Samson thanked councillors for their input and said she’d deliver the message to Santo.

Then councillors went in camera to hear background on the real reason for the meeting.

When the reconvened, they unanimously passed a motion which stated, in part, “council was made aware of new information about the fairness of bidding” for supply of garbage receptacles to the town. The motion rescinded a previous motion awarding a contract and instructed staff to re-tender the purchase and “ensure town specifications are clear to all bidders”.

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