When Can We Have In-person Council Meetings?

On December 13 council agenda there is a report from the Clerks reviewing possible options as to how council and the various committee meetings can be conducted given that we are starting to re open as public health and workplace safety measures are being reduced. I agree health and safety of the public, the staff and elected officials as the work of municipal government is carried out must not be jeopardized.  And I also believe that there is value in operating “in person” as opposed to virtually. I also believe that we should have a mindset that this specific virus will be part of our world for a long time and there will be a new one at some point; hence we need to be agile.  The report provides good information.  Below I have identified my choices.  I would like to hear from my readers.

For phase 1 when there are public health restrictions (i.e. now) my preference is for in-person Council;  hybrid (in-person and virtual Council) is my second choice; in both cases public participation continues as virtual only.

For phase two when public health measures and workplace safety restrictions are lifted my preference is for option C which is in person council and in person public with live streaming maintained. My second choice is option B, the hybrid model, whereby Council would be in-person and virtual and public would be in person and virtual with live streaming maintained.

For the various committees i.e.  Committee of Adjustment, Accessibility, Heritage and Sustainability Advisory Committees I concur that virtual meetings should continue. I take this position not because I think these committees don’t have the challenges and disadvantages which have been identified for the Council meetings; but I do believe that priority needs to be put on transitioning the Council meetings to some degree of in-person and to do so with the Committees would be a distraction from the priority.

 

As I have said at the outset the report does provide some good information. There is one gap though: there is not acknowledgement of the value of in-person public participation.  With virtual public participation the public misses the value of supporting each other when there are contentious issues. Our protocol for virtual meetings requires the public to register for deputations by Monday noon hour; this essentially reduces by six hours the time for the public to read the agenda and reports; given that the latter may not be published until late Thursday evening this is a meaningful loss of time. Finally, I have heard from members of the public that they perceive that Council members do not appreciate the magnitude of public concern when there isn’t the opportunity “to pack the council chambers.”

We must maintain the practice of live streaming our council meetings. implementing this capability in king was talked about for several years but we just never got around to implementing it. Now that we have done it and persons have seen the value we must not go backwards on this.

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