Board Approves Changes to Organizational Review, Hiring Freeze; Approved review for taxi fare and rental vehicle regulations

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Chief Administrative Officer (CEO) Jamie Doyle and a third-party auditor will conduct an organizational review of the administration of the municipality. The hiring freeze on positions has been replaced with a cap that limits the number of full-time employees to February 2 numbers. This will last until the review is presented to the board.

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The motion was approved 5-3, with councilors Allan Grandison, Ken Ball and Shafiq Dogar opposed. Councilors Keith McGrath, Lance Bussières and Loretta Waquan were absent.

Grandison successfully lobbied for an operational review during budget talks last month. At Tuesday’s board meeting, he said the changes had made him feel “completely ripped off about it from day one”.

“No one told me about it, the original mover of the motion…I found it a bit embarrassing,” he said.

Councilor Stu Wigle, who proposed the changes, apologized to Grandison for not telling him about the motion first.

“I agree that to be accountable, especially as a board, we have to do an organizational review and see where we need to do it,” Wigle said. “We don’t want to handcuff the RMWB to be able to do the job of providing the services that are already there and then not grow beyond what we already have for staffing.”

Doyle said the hiring freeze has hurt the municipality. Road crews are 12 short, delaying snowplow response times. An operating group was also left without a supervisor who recently left the municipality.

CUPE 1505, which represents many city workers, has also filed grievances with OAC offices alleging staffing limits violate collective agreements. A complaint to the Alberta Labor Relations Board has also been filed.

“It just causes a lot of consternation that we haven’t, or I guess I haven’t, conveyed well enough,” Doyle said. “Collective bargaining alone is enough to make us stop and rethink.”

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Grandison said he had no intention of disrupting the municipality’s ability to provide services. He also said CUPE’s grievances were expected.

“They are doing their job, just as it is the board’s job to determine the operating budget for this organization,” he said. “It’s not intended to undermine the collective agreement…nor was it my intention in the first place.”

Dogar argued throughout the meeting that the municipality should conduct the review internally and without a third-party auditor. He argued that it would save money and suggested that Ball lead the review. Ball never asked to lead the organizational review, and the rest of the board rejected the idea.

A snow plow drives past Keyano College on its way to Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray, after a sudden snowstorm hit Wood Buffalo Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Olivia Condon/Fort McMurray Today/ Postmedia Network
A snow plow drives past Keyano College on its way to Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray, after a sudden snowstorm hit Wood Buffalo Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Olivia Condon/Fort McMurray Today/ Postmedia Network

Taxi fares and rental vehicle regulations under review

The board asked the administration to review the impact of taxi fares and rental vehicle regulations on Fort McMurray and rural areas. A task force to recommend taxi regulations will also be created. Both motions passed unanimously.

The review comes as the taxi industry shrinks in Fort McMurray. Penny Skinner, director of Sun Taxi, said there were 775 taxis registered in 2013, which fell to 329 in 2016 and 148 last week. Skinner wants taxi fares to increase by 20% to cover rising maintenance and insurance costs.

Dogar, who is a taxi driver, said more drivers would leave if fares did not increase. Wigle, manager of Earls Kitchen and Bar, said he saw drunk people waiting over an hour for a taxi. The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions has brought more people out, putting even more pressure on taxis.

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“That’s when they decide to drive home and we lose lives,” Wigle said.

Phil Walding, dispatch manager for Sun Taxi, said more drivers favor trips to the airport or an oil sands operation because it pays more. This means fewer taxis available and longer waiting times within the city limits.

Walding is the municipality’s former chief taxi inspector and introduced the rental vehicle regulation. He was fired in July 2015 and pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in April of that year.

Police say he uploaded three of the graphic images to a cloud storage service that was detected by Microsoft. He was sentenced to six months and three years probation in 2017.

Abdi Mursal, owner of Driverseat Fort McMurray, said the bylaw should be updated to allow ride-sharing and ride-sharing programs, such as Uber and Lyft.

Deanne Bergey, city manager of community and protective services, said taxi drivers were consulted on the bylaw update in 2019. Updating the bylaw to reflect driver feedback would be a complex process, but she agreed that a review was necessary. Bergey said the rates haven’t changed since 2014.

-with files by Vincent McDermott

[email protected]

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