County considering giving public virtual access to council and committee meetings

·3 min read

County of Wellington council receives a notice of motion to make council and committee meetings accessible to the general public remotely.

Coun. Campbell Cork presented a notice of motion that asked staff to provide a report on the feasibility of making council and committee meetings more accessible to the general public remotely; and that the system be capable of allowing staff and council members to participate in meetings remotely when necessary.

“The motion is two pronged: one is directed at council members, and the other is directed to the general public,” said Cork.

“Let me be clear, this does not alter the fact that staff and council members are expected to meet in person and that will continue to do so, but there are circumstances where a staff or council members may permit them to do so.”

Cork explained that health reasons such as breaking a bone or catching the common flu, a family emergency such as a funeral and other legitimate reasons that staff and council members may have for being unable to attend in person, but still capable to attend virtually are some of the reasons he wants to put this motion forward.

He also explained the importance of the public being able to participate in the council and committee meetings remotely, noting that “county meetings are inaccessible to the public as certain circumstances such as not having a vehicle make it harder for many to attend.”

Many council members believe the motion has good merit, but their main concern was how it can take place.

“I think the council should give some direction to staff to come back with options on how we can do this,” said Coun. Jeff Duncan.

“I’m in favour of this, I mean, we would have a different discussion if it was eighteen months or three years ago because of COVID-19. The Zoom platform, while not perfect, does provide accessibility to the general public and it has worked in that sense.”

Coun. George Bridge noted that ever since the Town of Minto has gone virtual, they have been getting more participation virtually from the public during council meetings.

However, Coun. Doug Breen expressed concerns around recording the meetings and doing them over the telephone or via Zoom.

“I have noticed that once the camera starts recording, councillors turn into a completely different collective; the chamber turns into a madhouse. People just start acting out,” said Breen.

“There may be reasons why we allow some staff to attend remotely but they have to be extremely narrow. Aside from being in a hospital bed, I don’t know what other reason we can approve or where the line is with staff or council attending these meetings virtually. We’re only here eight times a year, so if you can’t be here for those eight times, why are you even holding a seat in council? ”

Breen notes that he wants council to list all the acceptable reasons that staff and councillors can use in order to attend meetings virtually.

Coun. Diane Ballantyne, unimpressed with Breen’s comment, took a jab at his “enormous amount of privilege”.

“I think having this conversation and moving this forward to be able to participate remotely absolutely supports transparency in engagement and respects the opportunity to be able to join in a post-COVID world,” said Ballantyne.

“The idea that somehow you can’t get your bottom here eight times a year and that you don’t deserve to hold office in Wellington County is quite limited and very privileged.”

Council unanimously agreed to reconvene at a later date when staff has created a report on how to make this motion feasible and accessible.

Angelica Babiera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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