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Pandemic forces council into electronic world to keep wheels of government moving

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
April 22nd, 2020

The virus has caused city council to go viral.

Or, at least, the potential to go viral if enough people tune in to the electronic council meetings, the current modus operandi for the seven elected officials on Nelson’s municipal council.

Council has taken to gathering through an electronic meeting every two weeks — available live streaming on the city’s website and then posted through its Youtube channel (Nelson City Council Youtube) — instead of the in-person gatherings.

Originally, in order to allow regular and committee of the whole meetings to be held with electronic means — as result of the Covid 19 pandemic that erupted March 23 — the city’s staff made amendments to the regular procedures bylaw.

But now the province has moved to allow municipal councils to hold meetings electronically, negating the city’s amendments. Council voted to remove the amendments but not without some thought of what might still be coming down the road.

Coun. Brittny Anderson felt the city was shifting into new territories and should have retained some of the spirit of the amendment.

“I do see the importance to have the flexibility in the future for us to have a council meeting remotely without having to go through this process again,” she said.

“I know at this time we are granted this flexibility from the province, and I know there are instances in the future … where we might want to have that flexibility so we would not have to go through this process again.”

The amendment provided the mayor the power to do that.

However, there will be several amendments to the procedure bylaw that will come forward in June that will delve back into the topic, said city manager of corporate service, Sarah Winton.

“One of the reasons we are recommending holding off on this particular amendment is because we do need to give two weeks of advertising. So if the city is going to do a significant revamp of the procedure bylaw, we might as well do it all at once. This particular bylaw (amendment) would be included,” she said.

The Provincial Order was clear in that it aimed to limit the amount of in-person interaction — social distancing — while allowing municipalities to carry on with their business, Winton explained to council.

Pandemic planning

The rapidly evolving Covid-19 pandemic has required society to dramatically reduce the number of in-person gatherings that take place, read the city staff report to council.

However, the city’s procedure bylaw limits the amount of councilors that can participate electronically at a regular or committee-of-the-whole meeting to two.

As a result, on March 23, in an effort to ensure that all of council could attend the upcoming meets electronically, staff proposed to amend the Council Procedure Bylaw accordingly, the report concluded.

Three days after the amendment was put forth the province issued Ministerial Order No. M083 which resolves these issues.

Specifically, the order provides that:

  • Despite any provisions of the Community Charter or Council’s Procedure Bylaw, Council may conduct all or part of its meetings by electronic means;
  • Despite any provisions of the Community Charter or Council’s Procedure Bylaw the municipality need not “allow members of the public to attend an open meeting. . .”

— Source: City of Nelson

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