NORTH PERTH – To hybrid or not to hybrid, that is the question. After some back and forth on June 6, North Perth council voted to defer the decision on how council can return to chambers – if they return at all.
On June 20, Clerk Lindsay Cline presented old and new solutions, after consulting staff. She presented six different options: remaining fully virtual, resuming in-person, a hybrid format with councillors returning, a hybrid format with councillors remote, a fully-hybrid model with additional equipment, and a fully-hybrid model with existing equipment. The first four of which do not incur any expenses; however, both the fully-hybrid models have a financial impact on the municipality. Buying new equipment carries a price tag to the tune of $40,000.
Hybrid using existing equipment requires an investment into the municipality’s bandwidth. Over a five-year commitment with its internet provider, that could total $102,000. Cline pointed out that other options may be available, but they would require a third party to come in to consult.
Coun. Matt Duncan, citing the current issues of inflation that are plaguing just about everybody, said that he could not in good conscience support the latter two options, to which a number of other councillors agreed. Throughout the following discussion, most gravitated to resuming in-person or a hybrid model with councillors returning. Concerns arose around the format of returning, the logistics of moving forward, and why they are so concerned about distancing and masking when the world at large is returning to ‘normal.’
“If anyone has been out and about and around,” Coun. Julie Behrns said. “The federal and provincial regulations are changing all of the time with regard to social distancing. It really confuses me that I can go to a sporting event, but I can’t come back to the council chamber.”
Coun. Lee Anne Andriessen addressed the elephant in the middle of the horseshoe: the additional desks. As part of the hybrid model and in accordance with social distancing, the chamber would have three floating desks in the centre of the horseshoe, their backs towards other councillors. Cline acknowledged that it may be atypical, but this was the best option with their single camera setup. Mayor Todd Kasenberg also reassured that the awkward setup would not impact his ability to conduct council.
Coun. Terry Seiler suggested extending the horseshoe and maneuvering the other furniture in the room. Staff indicated that there was some wiggle room in the configuration and that may be possible.
Over the course of the discussion, the option of a hybrid model, with the eventual return to fully in-person, began to take shape. Kasenberg, with help from council, drafted a resolution to put that sentiment to paper.
“We got there,” Kasenberg said, as the motion passed unanimously.
The motion goes into effect at the next council meeting on July 4.
Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner