Hay River town council has quickly dismissed the idea of closing town hall for an hour over lunch.
The recommendation from town administration was discussed at the Feb. 10 standing committee of council, and failed to even get verbal consent to take forward for a vote at a regular meeting.
The idea was that council modify the hours of operation of town hall from the current 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday except statutory holidays.
“It was initially raised as a safety concern that during office hours at lunchtime there’s only one person present in the building,” Sam Mugford, the director of finance and administration, told council. “And so we looked at what alternatives could be in place.”
Mugford noted that, in the current town hall, there’s not really a financially appropriate way of creating a barrier between the public and the employee working over lunch.
Town administration tracked how many people come into town hall during lunch hours. Over a 23-day period, there were 19 customers, and on only 13 of 23 business days were there one or more customers.
Mugford pointed out that the town halls in Inuvik, Fort Smith, Norman Wells and Fort Simpson are all closed during lunch hour. The Yellowknife city hall is open over lunch.
There was some support for the idea among councillors.
“I’m willing to go ahead and try this out,” said Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard. “I do think we should look at other options. I know noon is probably one of the times when people can actually come in.”
Coun. Brian Willows stressed the safety concerns.
“I’ve been involved with other organizations where this has been an issue,” he said. “And although it is a rare event, it does happen. Employees can be abused if in fact they’re here by themselves.”
Willows noted that, since the town hall is operating in a leased building, it can’t be adding walls and security measures.
“I do appreciate the customer service industry and we’re a part of it and that has to be weighed in the balance of it all,” he said. “But until we have an answer to the safety concerns, I’m more concerned about our employees’ safety.”
Coun. Keith Dohey noted that, when he was first elected to council, town hall had been closed over lunch hours.
Dohey said he got a very negative reaction from people when mentioning the idea of closing over lunch once again.
“I just about got barked out of the coffee shop there the other day, so I can already guess where this is going to go, and I’m not in favour of it,” he said. “I don’t buy into the safety concern, I’m sorry. There’s a number of staff that work here and I don’t feel that there’s a reason that there’s only one person here over lunch hour. That’s time management.”
The Town of Hay River is here to serve the public, he said. “We can’t do that with the doors locked.”
Coun. Jeff Groenewegen and Coun. Linda Duford also opposed the idea of closing over lunch.
Duford suggested that town administration look at staggered lunch hours to avoid having one employee at town hall.
Mayor Kandis Jameson also spoke against closing town hall for lunch hour.
“I do think we are in the service industry in part, that is serving the public, and I would be a little choked if I had to take time off work to pay my taxes,” she said.
Jameson also supported Duford’s suggestion of flexible lunch hours, noting it is doable under the collective agreement with workers.
“I don’t think it has to be a safety issue,” the mayor said. “I think that there is a fix for that, as well.”