An attempt to get rid of the vaccine mandate for City of Red Deer staff and volunteers failed to launch on Monday.
But city council unanimously passed another motion that instructs administration to bring back a proposed vaccine policy for council that’s similar to the one that applies to staff.
City councillors heard they would be overstepping their authority to ask the city manager to reconsider the mandatory vaccine mandate that will take effect on Nov. 28.
Interim acting city manager Ken McMullen said the Municipal Government Act (MGA) effectively quashes a motion that was put forward at the last council meeting by Coun. Victor Doerksen.
The MGA clearly delineates the responsibilities of council versus that of the city manager — and all decisions that impact staff wellness and their working conditions fall under the authority of the city manager, not council.
By asking administration to look for other alternatives than a vaccine mandate, Doerksen’s motion was asking the city manager to go back on her decision, said McMullen, who was filling in on Monday for acting city manager Tara Lodewyk, who was away.
According to the MGA, “you have paid me, now you have to trust me to do my job,” said McMullen, who added it would be considered an “overreach” for council to move into the job designated for the city manager.
According to a report presented to council from procedural and legal experts, the city’s vaccination policy falls within the sole discretion of the city manager to establish, implement and monitor.
“Council must not make policies related to staff working conditions, and must not attempt to influence, coerce or direct a city manager in how they carry out their properly authorized duties,” the report states.
Any council motions that are inappropriate intrusions into city manager’s authority are contrary to MGA and would therefore be considered ‘out of order’. If council knowingly approves a matter outside its limits of authority, the resulting decision would be void, stated the city’s legal expert Michelle Baer.
However, she noted that the MGA allows council to request information to explain administrative policy.
City council therefore opted to go ahead and ask administration to present a report at the Dec. 6 meeting that explains the rationale for the vaccine mandate and the staff compliance rate.
Mayor Ken Johnston later admitted this is the first time in his eight years as an elected official that he was asked to make a decision on whether a motion as out of order. Although Johnston determined that “the actual motion was butting up against municipal bylaws,” he felt Doerksen still deserved the chance to make his case.
Doerksen explained to council that he’s troubled that many municipal and health workers who were there for the community since the start of COVID-19 have now been deemed “expendable” because of their personal health decisions.
He also admitted he’s disappointed that his motion against the vaccine mandate had no legs to go further, under the MGA, and believes many members of the public will not understand these jurisdictional distinctions.
Since Doerksen ran on an election platform against vaccine mandates, he pledged to look into other avenues, if possible, to fight them.
This didn’t prevent him from joining the rest of council in unanimously supporting a motion put forward by Coun. Cindy Jefferies, asking administration to bring back a vaccination policy for city council that’s similar to one it has for city employees and volunteers.
Doerksen explained that he supports this on principle because he doesn’t believe that council should be afforded “special privileges” not given to staff.
Jefferies said she firmly believes council must lead to example, and that rules for staff should apply as much as possible to councillors.
While, under the MGA, it’s not possible to oust an elected councillor, council was told consequences for non-compliance would be part of the report brought back in January on a council vaccine mandate.
Coun. Kraymer Barnstable, who also ran on an anti-vaccine mandate platform, said he will continue to personally pay for his own rapid COVID tests if required to in future, and these will not be put on the taxpayer’s tab.