Toilet break nearly derails $22 million project at city council meeting


A brief break during the city council meeting in Saskatoon on Wednesday almost cost the city dearly.

In the final moments of a marathon business session, the question arose whether to approve or reject the expenditure of $22 million to build a municipal organics processing plant.

But when this point was brought up, Councilman David Kirton briefly left the room and almost flushed the project down the toilet.

“I'm not sure if that was intentional, but it would have very serious consequences,” said Mayor Charlie Clark when he realized Kirton was not in the room during the vote.

In the city's video of the meeting, another councilor can be heard saying, “He's in the bathroom.”

The moment was significant because, as with most major issues in recent years, the council was split. Without Kirton's vote for the project, the council was in a deadlock, with five for and five against. According to procedure, a tie vote means a loss.

“I can’t remember anything concrete like that happening,” said City Councilor Donauer on Friday.

Kirton says he simply thought he had time before the vote, so he decided to take a moment and walk out – a common practice during long meetings in the council chamber.

However, because the city council had discussed the organics facility in numerous meetings over the past few months, there was no discussion, only a vote, leaving Kirton absent at a crucial moment.

“I miscalculated and came back to a pretty quiet room, and Councilman Loewen said, 'You know, we lost. We lost the organic vote by a tie,'” Kirton said.

“I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I felt sick, and I felt sick.”

The situation was made even more dramatic by the actions of Donauer, who preferred to offer the project on the open market rather than realizing it internally. Knowing that the plant would likely be completed by a vote of 6 to 5 based on the previous meetings, he stood up and asked the councilors to reconsider the motion, knowing that the plant he rejected would now be completed.

“As soon as all city councillors were assembled, they would have found a proposal,” said Donauer.

“They would have had to change just one word or one dollar and we would have had to discuss the whole thing again. So the end result was inevitable.”

By not only sparing Kirton an embarrassment, Donauer says, he also likely saved the administration and city council many hours of time that they would have spent on another vote.

Kirton says that although he and Donauer are often involved in dissenting votes, such a gesture shows how the council members work together.

“I just thought it was incredibly classy,” Kirton said.

“We've become best friends, and when we're there, it's not about agreeing or disagreeing, it's not about fighting each other. It's about moving the city forward.”

Ultimately, Kirton supported the motion to allow a vote in the presence of all council members.

“The votes can go any way at any given time, but no one on the council is really playing games,” Donauer said. “And we're all trying to get to the bottom line, which is that our citizens are heard.”

As Donauer predicted, the motion passed by a vote of 6 to 5, allowing the city to build its own organics processing facility in an area near Recovery Park. However, no one had any idea how the path to get there would ultimately be.

“In 18 years, this is another new experience on the council. But I want to thank you, Councilman Donauer, for your grace in this situation,” Clark said shortly after the vote.

“I always like to bring something new to the council, and I guess that was the latest. But I don't want to do it again. Ever,” Kirton said with a smile.