Regina City Council embarked on a series of heated press conferences on Wednesday as a dispute over what should have been included in the city’s recommended budget is set to go to court next week.
Com. Dan LeBlanc, who is a lawyer, sued on behalf of council. Andrew Stevens and Florence Stratton, a well-known social activist from Regina.
They allege that the city’s unelected administration deliberately subverted the will of the democratically elected council it is supposed to follow.
At the heart of the case is a motion to end homelessness in Regina.
The argument is whether the city administration was obligated to include the motion and its financial implications in the draft budget it recommends to council, or whether it was free to omit it.
The lawsuit filed in the Court of King’s Bench seeks a court order directing Niki Anderson, who recently became City Manager of Reginato include an estimated $24.9 million in the proposed budget to end homelessness.
“The unelected city manager has effectively shielded elected leaders from having to publicly state their position on homelessness,” LeBlanc said at a press conference Wednesday.
LeBlanc says the $24.9 million lawsuit figure is based on what advisers were told in preliminary estimates.
The lawsuit was not well received by Mayor Sandra Masters.
In a scrum after the council meeting on Wednesday, she said she had not yet received legal advice on the matter.
Her view as mayor is that it’s now a matter for the courts, she said, but added ‘if you ask me personally, I think it’s disgusting’, saying that she is unimpressed that Anderson is being targeted in the lawsuit.
“I think for a first female city manager, there are tones of sexism in there.”
How Regina got here
The dispute dates back to a June 15 motion that ordered the city administration to include ‘full operational funding to address homelessness across the city’, which should be ‘clearly delineated in a separate line item’ in the project. of the city’s 2023 budget, according to Rencontre minutes published on the city’s website.
The motion, which passed unanimously, also ordered the city government to produce a report explaining the costs, as well as the estimated number of homeless people in Regina and the cost of inaction on the matter.
Full details specified in the motion were outlined in the draft budget released earlier this week, but the administration has not recommended that the city proceed with the motion.
The city administration said the city’s mill rate – which determines the tax per dollar of a property’s assessed value, expressed in “mills” – is expected to increase 21.7% in 2023 and 4.24 % additional in 2024 to cover the $122.5 million needed. implement a housing first model to address homelessness.
The increase would translate to an average of $40.59 per month ($487.08 per year) per owner in 2023 and $11.90 per month ($142.80 per year) in 2024.
The city administration said a recommendation to go ahead was not included in the preliminary budget due to the high cost of the project.
LeBlanc says that just reading the motion makes it clear that the funding should have been included in the preliminary budget for the board to consider.
“He’s not saying, ‘we’re going to think about whether to include.’ He says, “You’re going to invest that money and we elected officials will debate it later,” he said.
LeBlanc said that with limited choices available to force the issue, he and Stevens felt a trial was their only recourse.
Stevens was the councilor who moved the original motion and Stratton is a resident of Regina. Using the two as plaintiffs in the lawsuit means all legal bases are covered, LeBlanc said.
The other councilors were not consulted before the filing of the complaint.
Legal battle escalates
Including the motion in the budget would force councilors to vote publicly to cut the funding, forcing them to take a stand on ending homelessness, LeBlanc said.
“This undemocratic, backroom withdrawal from the budget removes that responsibility and allows me and others to say, ‘I don’t have to talk about this publicly because an unelected person took it backstage. “”, did he declare. .
The two sides will meet Nov. 29 at 10 a.m. in the Court of King’s Bench, as LeBlanc wants a court decision before council debates the city’s budget on Dec. 14.
Stevens and Stratton filed sworn affidavits accompanying the legal filing.
As of Wednesday evening, Anderson and the city of Regina had yet to respond to the lawsuit.
The Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry and Rally Around Homelessness, two organizations dedicated to fighting poverty, said they supported the legal battle.
But Masters said she rejects the concept of a lawsuit and the board cannot impose what the administration recommends.
Masters, who normally answers any questions posed to her after board meetings, answered media inquiries for about 15 minutes on Wednesday before abruptly announcing she was done.
She had parting words for those looking to go after the city manager, saying Anderson was already harassed.
“The public is blowing up her email right now and wanting her home address and personal cell phone numbers because they think she’s an awful human being right now.
“So, well done, everyone.”