By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on January 18, 2024.
The coffee was hot and the doughnuts tempting but there were few takers for either on a cold, snowy Wednesday morning as Mayor Blaine Hyggen and several members of council met members of the public at the Park Place Mall food court for a conversation.
The casual event, which was conceived by Deputy Mayor John Middleton-Hope two years ago, was the 22nd time council has met with community members in various settings from senior citizen lodges to the University of Lethbridge to answer questions and hear their concerns.
On Wednesday with a snowstorm raging outside, only Grandview Lodge resident Wayne Schellhorn and a couple of hours took the opportunity to chat with Hyggen and Middleton-Hope, and councillors, Belinda Crowson, Jenn Schmidt-Rempel and Nick Paladino.
Mall general manager Kevin Brees had attended one of the events elsewhere and thought it would fit the mall, its shoppers and others in the community.
Middleton-Hope says the coffee sessions are an opportunity for council to connect with people in an informal setting.
“We’ve done it with 22 groups, everything from unions to senior centres. It’s really helpful because you don’t have that formalized area of City Hall” which he says can be intimidating to some people.
“This allows people to just sit down and have a coffee with council, listen to what’s going on, have a chat and ask some questions.
“Some of them are pretty damn good questions,” said the Deputy Mayor.
“One of the things that I found out of it, particularly with the seniors centres which are really fun, you hear things that affect them.”
As an example, residents of Garden View Lodge near the mall had concerns about no fence at their building.
“One of the other things that was great in talking with residents in the facility itself they talked about the intersection out on 1st. Avenue and 7th Street and how it was hard to move walkers and how some of the sidewalks needed to be reconfigured. And that was done, that was taken care as a result of it. So that’s really been helpful in terms of hearing from people that may not otherwise ask questions of council members. This is an opportunity where we come to themâ€¦and they’ve been really, really positive,” he said.
Transit is often an issue residents bring up, said Middleton-Hope and Paladino, and sometimes taxes come up in discussions.
Seniors, the Deputy Mayor said, have found in the past couple of years it’s been difficult to either access transit or their bus stop was removed.
“So we’ve explained to them how to use Access-A-Ride and we’ve explained how they can connect to get services they need to get them around the city,” he added.
One meeting with the U of L Students Union had discussions about the campus food bank and an opportunity will be presented so that group can come before council to request funding like other food banks have done.
“One wouldn’t expect that the students at the University of Lethbridge would have to host a food bank but they do.”
One concern Schellhorn had is there is no sidewalk going to Grandview and he wanted to discuss that matter with council.
Brees said this was the first council session at the mall.
“It’s very easy to access, an opportunity for the surrounding facilities, tenants, shoppers, anyone in the community,” he said of the mall location.
“We’ll give it another go I’m sure another day when the weather might be a little more cooperating.”
Brees thought the idea to have an informal conversation with council was “absolutely wonderful.”