Hybrid meeting could present technical challenges for council meetings

·3 min read

If and when Chatham-Kent council returns to in-person meetings, there will be some technical challenges in incorporating a hybrid meeting.

While a majority of Chatham-Kent councillors prefer having the option of a hybrid meeting, administration says it will present technical challenges.

A report on revising council’s procedural bylaw that was updated due to the COVID-19 pandemic was presented during the latest council meeting. The report included results of a survey of council relating to the return to in-person meetings in council chambers with a form of hybrid meeting.

The results showed more than 80 percent of council feels comfortable returning to their seat in the chambers at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre and 70 percent prefer moving forward with some type of hybrid meeting with a combination of in-person and virtual attendance.

As for participating in meetings virtually, 58 percent of council said they want criteria set to be eligible to do so. In addition, 53 percent council wanted no maximum on the number of meetings they could attend virtually.

According to Judy Smith, report author and municipal governance director, she didn’t overlook the fact council is 70 percent in favour of a hybrid option for council meetings.

However, she said when consulting with the municipality’s information technology and legal departments regarding the report, there are some technical challenges with the infrastructure in the council chambers.

“The current equipment is not conducive to hybrid meetings,” said Smith.

For example, Smith said the voting options in council chambers are done through the microphone system, which allows the votes to be displayed directly on the screen.

Smith said if there is a situation where some councillors attend a meeting online, and some are in council chambers, the microphone voting cannot accommodate councillors attending virtually.

After discussing it with IT, Smith said council would have to do the exact Zoom meeting they’re currently doing, within the chambers, so that people who weren’t present could vote.

Smith said administration is not opposed to hybrid meetings, but rather more time is needed to work with IT to find the right software program to hold this type of meeting.

She added her report indicates the next term of council would need to look at the issue during their budget.

The report also recommends council not adopt a proxy voting system – which is now allowed under the Municipal Act.

North Kent Councillor Jamie McGrail said she would like to add a proxy voting system. She added this might help if somebody can’t attend a meeting but can designate somebody to carry on their voting if they cannot call in.

Smith said a lot more research would be needed to implement proxy voting, including consulting the legal department.

“This is not something that I’ve heard a lot of municipalities have implemented the proxy,” she added.

Meanwhile, Chatham Councillor Karen Kirkwood-Whyte said she likes the fact administration is recommending there not be a proxy voting option.

“I think it’s time to get together safely, if possible,” she said.

In the end, council passed a recommendation to have administration prepare a report for the current council. This report will identify procedural changes required, the corresponding operational process for hybrid council meetings, and the implementation of a proxy vote system.

Council also voted to have administration wait for more information on COVID-19 modelling regarding the prediction of another wave of the virus in the fall before making a final decision on returning to council chambers.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News

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