County, municipalities take meetings online during COVID-19 crisis

WELLINGTON COUNTY – All Wellington County council members were dialled in for the first ever county council meeting held via teleconference on March 26.

The “virtual meeting,” as Warden Kelly Linton dubbed the conclave, was made necessary due to efforts to avoid gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This COVID-19 situation really has pre-empted everything else that we thought was so important,” noted Linton in his opening remarks.

The first order of businesses at the meeting, which lasted just under an hour, was to pass a resolution deeming the county’s procedural bylaw to have been amended to allow for electronic meetings in accordance with Bill 187, Municipal Emergency Act, 2020.

The conference call format allowed for the public to dial in and listen to the meeting. Close to 40 residents joined the call, officials say.

In his opening remarks, Linton provided “a snapshot” of the situation in the county.

“We do have one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county but there is evidence the virus is circulating unknowingly in the community, so we’re taking as many precautions as we can,” said the warden.

“The county Emergency Operations Committee, the EOC, is in place and is providing operational directives for all county activities right now. The daily EOC meetings are happening, decision are being made and they are all being documented will be made public once this pandemic situation is behind us.”

Linton added, “Were currently taking advice from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.”

He noted Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer “has personally participated in our meetings … and that’s provided us with some great subject matter expertise that’s informed all of our decisions.”

Linton said, “Currently all county staff than can work from home are doing so and all others are on call waiting to be deployed as needed.

“We’re also working in collaboration with all the member municipalities. We have daily calls with all the mayors and CAOs to do our best to collaborate and make decisions. The county and all the municipalities have mutually called states of emergency to help us streamline decision making and provide services for residents as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

Linton made a point of recognizing CAO Scott Wilson and staff “for running the county during this pandemic.”

He also recognized the efforts of community emergency management co-ordinator Linda Dickson.

“The importance of your role has never been more obvious,” he stated.

The warden also thanked county councillors for their support, noting, “I know this is an awkward time for you. You’re not as involved as normal. It’s important for us to have this council meeting today.

“It’s important to us to be as transparent as we can while still responding rapidly to the issues of the day.”

Lower tier meetings

Some of the county’s member municipalities are also getting back into meeting mode in accordance with electronic meeting provisions of Bill 187, Municipal Emergency Act, 2020.

Wellington North council held a special meeting of council on  March 25.

The meeting was held remotely by teleconference and while the platform used did not allow for the public or press to listen in, township officials stated “we are working on a platform that will provide broader access for future meetings.”

The agenda was posted on the website prior to the meeting and the township stated and the draft minutes would be posted within two days of the meeting.

“We know during this extraordinary time there is an understanding of the need to proceed with council business but also to protect the public, council and staff. We thank you for your patience,” the meeting notice states.

The Township of Mapleton held a meeting on March 24 utilizing GoToMeeting app technology.

“The public was able to join the meeting as per our council calendar,” states Mapleton CAO Manny Baron in an email to the Advertiser.

“In my opinion it was not perfect, so we will be trying something different next meeting, perhaps a conference line instead of video.”

The Town of Minto is planning told hold a council meeting via teleconference on March 31.

Minto CAO Derrick Thomson said the town is “not setup” for the technology to allow public access to the meeting.

“That being said, we are currently investigating every possible option to allow for public access to our meetings,” he stated.

The Town of Erin and the Townships of Centre Wellington, Guelph-Eramosa and Puslinch have not yet announced plans for remote meetings.

However, Erin held a COVID-19 “telephone town hall” on March 26.

For the latest meeting information, visit your municipal website.