County officials examining means to hold meetings remotely

WELLINGTON COUNTY – County officials are exploring ways to conduct council meetings without actually meeting, as staff and politicians work through an unprecedented situation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wellington County and all lower tier municipalities have cancelled council and committee meetings under directives from health officials to avoid large gatherings.

The Province of Ontario declared an emergency on March 17.

Wellington County cancelled several committee meetings and the March 26 council meeting, then later rescheduled the council meeting for March 20. However, that too was cancelled as health officials continue to recommend people avoid gathering in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

“With the ever-increasing urgency of the COVID-19 situation and our paramount need to take social distancing seriously, we are cancelling our council meeting scheduled for tomorrow,” stated clerk Donna Bryce in an email.

“It is absolutely essential for us as local leaders to demonstrate the seriousness of the direction provided by the prime minister, premier, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and our other healthcare partners.”

Wellington County CAO Scott Wilson said Warden Kelly Linton has so far resisted declaring an emergency locally; noting the provincial emergency declaration mandates many of the actions the county might take.

“We understand from our municipal advisor that the premiere declared an emergency so we can operate under that,” Wilson explained.

The lack of meetings is not hindering the county’s ability to close facilities or modify services, explained Wilson, who said he is keeping in touch with the county’s emergency response coordinators and has the authority to make decisions in many instances.

“I have the authority to run the corporation,” he noted.

While councils would ostensibly have to change procedural bylaws in order to allow for remote meetings, Wilson said officials are working on a way to allow council meetings to happen.

He noted existing legislation allowing “electronic participation” of councillors could allow for a meeting to be held through video-conferencing or other technology. While the county is not set up for video conferencing, some lower tier municipalities could potentially use the technology.

Wilson said a conference call meeting of county council is one possibility under consideration, although staffs are working on plans for adhering to requirements for “public participation” in a meeting of that nature.