In-person council meetings delayed

·3 min read

Due to the potential of a new wave of COVID-19 cases in Chatham-Kent, councillors won’t be meeting in person for council meetings any time soon.

Since March of 2020, council has decided to hold their meetings online. A report that came to council at the last meeting recommended council meet in-person as early as September. Despite the recommendation, council voted 10-7 to have the report referred back to administration for more information on what the modelling shows for COVID-19 in the fall.

“I have absolutely disliked having these meetings like this over the last two years,” said Councillor Doug Sulman.

Despite his displeasure with virtual meetings, the veteran councillor also raised concerns. He highlighted recent media reports about Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, stating the most recent COVID variant is the most contagious. He said the modelling predicts a “big step up” of infections in the fall.

Sulman questioned if the decision to return to in-person meetings is being made based on factors involved with an election year or on the best medical evidence.

“I’m just confused as to what the urgency is to go back to live meetings,” he said. “Why can’t we wait until we have a better feel for what we know is coming this fall.”

Chatham-Kent’s General Manager of Community and Human Services, April Rietdyk, also raised concern. She told council COVID hospitalizations in Ontario are at their highest level since May.

“It is distressing to me as a public health practitioner that we are seeing a number of people really firmly believing that COVID is over. It is not over, and certainly, all of the modellings show that we will have a wave in the fall and a wave in the spring,” Rietdyk said.

According to Cathy Hoffman, general manager of corporate services, when the report before council was penned, the COVID modelling was not trending in the direction it is now.

Hoffman said staff looks at September as “the earliest date that council might return.” However, she added that it is all subject to what is happening with the numbers.

Council asked staff to come back with a report on when in-person meetings might return.

“I’m in full agreement it has to be provided that it’s safe to do so for 18 people to be sitting in council chambers,” said Hoffman.

Interim chief administrative officer Tony Haddad suggested the matter be referred to staff to await further predictions on what the COVID picture could look like in the fall.

“There’s no urgency to dealing with the September return, particularly if things should continue to deteriorate in terms of COVID activity,” he said.

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

There are only five more council meetings in the current term, as a municipal election is scheduled in October.

Voting yes were Ceccacci, Faas, Finn, Harrigan, Latimer, C. McGregor, Pinsonneault, Sulman, Thompson, and Wright. Voting no were Authier Crew, Hall, Kirkwood-Whyte, McGrail, B. McGregor and Mayor Canniff. Councillor Bondy was not present.

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

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