Following a weeks-long debacle over access to a seniors’ room at its recreation centre, Fort Smith’s council has passed a motion to stop entering into private leases involving town facilities or spaces.
The motion was put forward by Councillor Chris Westwell, who told a March 9 committee meeting the town should scrap such leases after tensions arose between the council and the local seniors’ society.
The town terminated the seniors’ society’s lease on a room at the recreation centre while renovations are carried out. That act has evolved into a dispute over who has the right to control the room and, more broadly, the role seniors play in Fort Smith society.
After some discussion at the March 9 meeting, councillors decided to wait a week to allow more notice of Westwell’s motion and debate its merits beyond the contentious recreation centre issue.
At a March 16 meeting, Westwell’s updated motion noted leases had put the town in “antagonizing positions.”
His motion instructs the town to no longer enter into private leases for municipal spaces or lands if the lease does not allow the town “to determine the use and design of a space” or if it stops the public “from being able to access that space at the discretion and determination of the Town of Fort Smith.”
Westwell said the town has the “ability and capacity to deliver excellent programming for all ages and users” and, by retaining control over its spaces, the town could enhance facilities like the seniors’ room for everyone’s use.
“This isn’t an end but a new beginning,” he told fellow councillors.
“I think this sets a better standard for us to go forward with equal user agreement approaches to every user group. Everybody has an opportunity and a footing to try to work out what works best with their group.”
Councillor Mike Couvrette, in favour of the motion, said the town’s community services master plan supported the motion’s aims. Couvrette said council was obliged to expand programming capacity and improve the lives of residents.
“If we don’t do that, we’re failing to live up to what we promised … to look at the best interest of our community – everybody, be it our youth, seniors, at-risk people – and we can’t do that with our hands tied by leases,” he said.
Councillor Jessica Cox, also in support of the motion, noted the user agreements that are set to replace leases will still guarantee access to spaces for long-term users like the seniors’ society and the curling club.
Two councillors voted against the motion: Kevin Campbell, who took the side of the seniors’ society, and Ann Pischinger.