Puslinch council considers electronic meetings, delegations

PUSLINCH – Puslinch council will consider allowing electronic delegations, possibly as early as the next meeting.

“Bill 197, The COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act has received royal ascent in Ontario,” Puslinch CAO Glenn Schwendinger explained in a report at the Aug. 12 virtual council meeting.

“This bill has a broad ranging impact on many things pertaining to municipalities. A number of these impacts are still being quantified and examined.

“Matters will be brought forward to council as needed to address various issues.”

During the Aug. 12 meeting, Puslinch council considered changing its procedural bylaw to add three aspects from the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act:

  • allow electronic meetings to take place outside a state of emergency;
  • to allow the participation of electronic delegations; and
  • proxy voting.

Electronic meetings

Schwendinger said allowing electronic meetings outside of an emergency has been something municipalities have been seeking for years.

“The province has always objected to that but now people are seeing the value in it, so whether it’s … a snow storm or an ice storm or whatever, you do have that ability to host meetings virtually if you have that choice outside of an emergency declaration,” he said.

Schwendinger recommended staff bring back a report with proposed wording to accommodate the change.

Councillor Jessica Goyda asked whether councillors would be able to attend meetings electronically only during a state of emergency or at any time.

“That’s an option that we’re going to look at to see how logistically we could make that work,” Schwendinger said.

He also said a consideration was whether all of council would be required to participate electronically or if just one person could do so.

Councillors differed in their opinions.

Councillor John Sepulis said he would prefer all of council to be virtual or no one at all.

“The logic being is you can see the difficulty we’re having today with one person and if we have everybody in attendance at a live meeting and we have one person who goes electronically, the meeting is going to be as fast as that person has electronic communication link,” Sepulis said.

“So I would rather have it either all in the same boat or none of us.”

Councillors Sara Bailey and Matthew Bulmer didn’t agree.

They both said there is value in one person being able to attend a meeting virtually in some situations, like if quorum is needed to make a decision.

“It might delay the time of the meeting operation, but you can still move on with the meeting at least,” Bailey said.

Bulmer added, “I think that would be a reasonable accommodation.”

Mayor James Seeley said it would be convenient to allow councillors to attend a meeting virtually if they are away when council is dealing with something that’s very important to the municipality as a whole.

“I would like some flexibility either through the CAO or the mayor to say, ‘Alright we’re going to let X member join electronically,’ but I don’t want it to be where we’re trying to run a meeting and it’s interfering with it and this is every week,” he said.

Electronic delegations

By allowing electronic delegations, council would be able to hear from people virtually, rather than just receive written delegations, as has been the practice since council meetings went virtual in March.

“I’m in favour of that when we’re as well having electronic meetings,” Sepulis said.

“Once we’re off that I would suggest we go back to the way it is.”

Bulmer said the community is small enough that it’s not unreasonable to have delegations attend in person when council meetings return to an in-person format.

Proxy vote

The new legislation would also allow for council to vote by proxy if it’s in the municipality’s procedural bylaw.

“I don’t kind of see why you would need a proxy vote if you can attend an electronic meeting and with council I don’t know if that’s necessary,” Bailey said.

Goyda, Sepulis and Bulmer agreed.

“I don’t think it’s needed at this time,” Bulmer said. “We’re elected at large.

“We all represent the entire township so it’s not like if we were in wards and one ward member was away that ward would be short represented around the council table so I’m not interested in moving ahead with proxies at this time.”

Seeley said he didn’t not support vote by proxy either.

Next steps

Staff has been asked to bring back a report on changes to the procedural bylaw regarding virtual meetings and electronic delegations based on councillors’ comments.

However, Schwendinger did say that if someone wanted to be an electronic delegation at the next council meeting, staff would put a procedural bylaw amendment at the beginning of the meeting.

If passed, the electronic delegation would be able to proceed.