by KORIE MARSHALL
Valemount Council is considering allowing up to two members at a time to attend Council meetings electronically.
An amendment to the Council procedures bylaw was originally brought to Council at its regular meeting on Nov. 24th for three readings. Bylaws normally cannot be changed between third and fourth (final) reading.
The bylaw was a late addition to the agenda, and Mayor Jeannette Townsend referred to a time-sensitivity for passing the amendment, but did not say why it was time sensitive.
Members of Council moved some amendments including only passing first and second reading, excluding participation from closed meetings, and discussed the need for public input on the changes.
Councillor Peter Reimer argued that some municipalities allow electronic attendance at closed meetings. “I think we need to be as up-to-date and proactive as we can be, because this kind of thing is going to attract better quality people to… sit on this Council,” said Reimer during discussion. “If we want proactive, progressive people, we’re going to have to open it up so that they can do it.”
“I have a real issue with this whole coming-to-a-Council-meeting-on-a-screen,” said Councillor Hollie Blanchette. “I understand things happen, people get pulled away for family emergencies, but you need to be in town to do the job. You need to be able to have people come up to you in the grocery store and say ‘Hey, I have an issue.’”
Councillor Sandy Salt questioned what “better quality people sitting in this room” means. She says it is one thing to be away for a family or medical emergency, but it’s another if you choose to be away.
Reimer later clarified his remarks, saying he doesn’t want to lose expertise in the community if a business owner didn’t put their name forward.
There was discussion of the Community Charter, which allows for electronic participation, if the municipality’s procedure bylaw allows it, and the facilities are available to enable members of Council and the public to hear (at a minimum, or watch and hear) each other, including the remote participant.
Councillor Owen Torgerson suggested adding a condition that up to a certain number of meetings can be attended electronically.
During public comment, local resident and business owner Rashmi Narayan said it was good to see the discussion from Council about the procedural change, even if it is uncomfortable. She suggested a limit on the total number of electronic participations in a year, rather than just a consecutive number of meetings, and agreed it is important to be physically present.
Gord Peters, local resident and manager of VCTV, which records and broadcasts Council meetings, suggested Council consider the logistics of recording meetings when people are participating remotely.
After the meeting, when asked why the bylaw change was time-sensitive, Ken Weisner, interim Chief Administrative Officer for the Village responded that Councillor Peter Reimer is waiting for a call to go to Asia to help his daughter with an adoption, which may keep him away from Council meetings for a time. He says he suggested the procedures change that would allow Reimer or other Councillors to attend meetings electronically. The Regional District of Fraser-Fort George recently passed a bylaw that allows remote participation by Directors for certain reasons, such as poor road conditions. The current Council has previously discussed allowing remote participation, but has not brought it to a bylaw.
“While this is new technology for me, and is not as good as being in attendance or in the community, I see that it has benefits,” said Weisner. “I think it is a good idea at this time to not have allowed for an in-camera (closed) meeting. It may lead to that if and when everyone becomes comfortable with this new technology.”
Peters says remote participation could be very difficult for VCTV to cover, depending on how it is done. It might mean VCTV would need at least one more camera, and he’s not clear how the audio (which has been a subject of a number of complaints by residents attending meetings) would be handled. He thinks it also may require a second monitor in Council Chambers, so that both Council and the public can see the screen.
“A maximum of twenty citizens can be accommodated in Council Chambers, while many more of Valemount’s residents choose to watch the proceedings in the comfort of their homes on VCTV or YouTube,” says Peters. “VCTV wants to continue to provide the same level of coverage that its viewers have come to expect.” He says he hopes that Council and Administration consider the technical implications and will confer with VCTV before changes occur.
At a special council meeting on Nov. 30th, which Councillor Reimer was not present at, Council directed staff to notify the public of the proposed changes to the procedure bylaw, as required by Section 124 of the Community Charter. If passed as currently written, the bylaw would allow not more than two Councillors to attend electronically at once; would exclude Chair of the meeting (Mayor or Deputy Mayor) from participating electronically; would allow not more than four consecutive regular meetings be attended electronically; and would exclude electronic participation in closed meetings.
According to an ad this week, members of the public can be heard or present written submissions on the proposed changes at the Dec. 10th special council meeting. Written submissions will be included in the agenda and become part of the public record.