While it is a bit early for research data on how electronic council meetings are impacting Haliburton County there are some interesting discussions currently underway in terms of the use of technology, not just now but going forward.
Algonquin Highlands councillors kicked around the topic Aug. 11 when they held a special council meeting to discuss amendments to their procedural bylaw for electronic participation in meetings.
You may remember that on March 17, Ontario declared a state of emergency over COVID. A couple of days later, they made some changes to the Municipal Act so townships could meet electronically since they weren’t allowed to meet in person.
For months now, the County and its four lower-tier municipalities have been meeting on Zoom and livestreaming to YouTube.
Overall, these meetings have been successful.
On July 21, the province shuffled the cards again, opening the door to meetings of council, local boards and committees, on an ongoing basis – no longer tied to an emergency declaration.
Many townships here still have to decide about advisory committees – when and how they can resume their work. Some have been stalled for months. Could they be held electronically in this current state of emergency?
Some of the talk includes a hybrid model, in which council could meet in person in the future and the meeting still be livestreamed to the general public if it’s not deemed safe for the public to be in council chambers.
There are also discussions about continuing livestreaming council meetings once councils are able to meet in the chambers and be open for public attendance.
In Haliburton County, the majority of elected officials have put their hands up knowing that they are expected to attend council meetings in person. It means they are not wintering in Florida and Zooming in, gin and tonic just out of the laptop frame.
What councils are trying to do now is figure out under which unusual circumstances they may be allowed to Zoom in: such as if they’ve broken a leg, or just had surgery, or there’s a pending threeday blizzard. From what I’m hearing, the exceptions have to be pretty exceptional. And, they should be.
I’d like to see meetings resume in-person when safe to do so. However, I’d also like them to continue on YouTube and be available to the general public for a week after each meeting is held.
We live in a County where all five governments meet during the day. This makes it very hard for working people to attend council meetings. In other jurisdictions, municipal council meetings are held in the evening to allow the general public better access.
One alternative to that would be a continuation of livestreaming. I’ve attended my fair share of Zoom/ YouTube council meetings since the spring. Sometimes the numbers of people watching are in the 20s and 30s. Rarely, if ever, do 20 to 30 people attend a council meeting in person unless there is a decidedly controversial topic on the agenda and word has gotten out.
Having the meetings livestreamed and available for seven days would allow for greater transparency and greater public input.