Bruce County looks at returning to partial return to in-person meetings

·2 min read

BRUCE COUNTY – Despite the provincial “emergency brake” applied in the face of rising COVID-19 numbers, county council is looking at a partial return to in-person meetings.

Council has been meeting electronically for a year, initially using Skype and now Microsoft Teams. Public access to meetings has continued to be available through digital delegation, the live stream, and/or archived video.

At the March 4 meeting, there was a brief discussion on returning to in-person meetings and staff were directed to prepare a report on various options.

At the April 1 meeting of the executive committee, council members looked at those options, one of which was to continue meeting remotely.

In-person options included a full return to in-person council and committee meetings with COVID-19 protocols in place. There is an audio quality concern with this option – noise and feedback including humming and clicks – which will be transmitted and heard by the live stream. The existing audiovisual system has failed in the past and may do so again.

The information technology department is currently working to modernize technology and audio systems within the county council chambers. The project is expected to be completed this summer.

The staff report offered an interim solution – meeting in the Saugeen and Rankin rooms, with four or five people in each. Council members and the CAO would attend in person, with everyone else including staff, press and the public participating virtually.

The recommended option, and the one committee members voted for, was a hybrid approach. Individual council members would choose whether to attend in person or virtually. Those council members and the CAO attending in person would utilize the Saugeen and Rankin meeting rooms until the modernization of the council chambers is completed.

The report recommended the hybrid approach be implemented effective May 6, to align with the tentative public reopening on May 3, assuming there’s no change in provincial legislation or Grey Bruce Health Unit direction relating to COVID-19.

Some members of council stated they failed to see the benefit of meeting in person if they’re in separate rooms. However, council went with most of the staff recommendation on hybrid meetings, effective June 3 (instead of May 6).

In other business, the executive committee voted to extend the economic recovery emergency business sustainability loan until Sept. 30.

Since the launch of the loan, the two community futures development corporations have processed 22 loans, representing 54 per cent of the $750,000 allotted. COVID-19 lockdowns have continued to adversely impact businesses, and staff determined there was value in continuing the loan.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times