Municipality of Chatham-Kent Council gave the green light to open all arenas across the community.
A motion by West Kent Councillor Melissa Harrigan during the Monday, September 14, 2020 electronic Council meeting was approved, which directs staff to resume the “committed arena service levels” for all arenas in 2020.
The motion passed with 88% in favour and 12% opposed.
“Arenas are crucial pieces of community infrastructure within the communities they serve,” Harrigan said in her motion.
“During the 2020 budgeting process, Chatham-Kent Council committed to providing a service level across Chatham-Kent to run 10 arenas, in the communities of Tilbury, Wheatley, Blenheim, Ridgetown, Bothwell, Dresden, Wallaceburg and Chatham.”
Harrigan added: “Arenas were abruptly closed following provincial directions in response to COVID-19, and have recently been permitted to open under a modified operational plan.”
The West Kent Councillor said there are various volunteer-run community organizations “who have expressed commitment, need and interest to book Chatham-Kent arenas to resume their recreational activities under current guidelines.
“The province of Ontario has committed a total of $5.8-million to cover any deficits due to COVID-19 in the 2020 year, reducing concern of needing to cut community programs in order to satisfy municipal budget requirements,” Harrigan said.
Also in her motion, Harrigan directed administration to establish an operational plan for each arena, which optimizes use and efficiency for staffing and community need. This report is set to be before Council on December 7, 2020.
In order to vote on Harrigan’s motion on Monday, Council had to first vote to waive the notice period.
Not all of Council agreed with the move.
“It is now 9:49 p.m., the meeting goes until 10 p.m. and we’re being asked to deal with a motion, without notice, with 10 minutes left in the meeting,” said Chatham Councillor Doug Sulman.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate whatsoever. This is all news to me, I don’t know how many Councillors are aware that this was going to happen. I think it’s totally improper to do it this way.”
Wallaceburg Councillor Aaron Hall said he was in favour of moving forward with the motion on Monday.
“A big main reason for providing notice is to get feedback from the public,” Hall said.
“I know I’m hearing a lot of feedback from our community, from the different community groups and the arena users. They’re ready to go and I think this is something we should move on.”
Hall added: “They’ve received guidance and approvals from their different governing bodies, Hockey Canada, Skate Ontario and others. It’s a dynamic situation that we’re in with the pandemic and I think this is something that we can move on and we should vote on it tonight.”
East Kent Councillor Steve Pinsonneault said the community groups needed answers.
“Especially us border cities, they’re going to go across the border,” he said.
“They need to know now what Chatham-Kent is going to do. I’d really like to deal with this tonight.”
Ultimately, Council voted to waive notice and move forward with debating Harrigan’s motion, with 72% in favour and 28% opposed.
Exact details about timing and opening dates were not discussed at Monday night’s meeting.
Watch for more on this story.