Summerland council has been holding virtual council meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The online meeting structure is resulting in changes to the council procedures bylaw. (YouTube photo)

Summerland amends procedure for virtual council meetings, adding transparency

During COVID-19 pandemic, meetings have been held using online technology

As physical distancing directives continue to keep people separate, municipal council members are coming together using virtual online meetings.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Summerland council has been holding its meetings using the Zoom platform and presenting them as livestream videos. This began with the May 11 council meeting.

Initially, under the province’s original Ministerial Order M083, members of the public were encouraged to provide written comments, but there was no option for in-person representation to council.

In addition, reports to council were for essential items only.

However, as physical distancing directives and prohibitions on mass gatherings continue, the province has updated its order for virtual council meetings.

READ ALSO: Summerland to offer livestreaming of council meetings

READ ALSO: COVID-19 prompts closures in Summerland

The more recent Ministerial Order M139 allows the municipality to conduct public hearings electronically.

“There is a real bonus here for increase public participation, which translates to increased transparency for people who are physically unable to attend our meetings,” said mayor Toni Boot.

She added that having the meetings available online as they are happening could reach a larger segment of the public.

During the most recent public meeting on May 25, only 10 people were watching the event as it was happening.

However, Boot said the online access provides greater opportunities to view and participate in the council meetings.

At the May 25 council meeting, council voted to receive a report on electronic meetings and council procedures for information. In addition, an enhanced public policy process and council correspondence process were approved.

The amendments to the council procedures bylaw will come back to Summerland council for consideration.

While the COVID-19 has prompted the shift to virtual council meetings, members of Summerland council expect the changes to meeting structure could continue after the pandemic is over.

“The world’s going to be changed when this is all over,” said Coun. Richard Barkwill.

Boot said future council meetings could have an opportunity for public comment by telephone or online communications as well as in-person comment.

“I would love to continue to see the opportunity for people to participate, even when they are not in the gallery,” she said.

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