Wellington North alters procedural bylaw to allow continued remote meetings

WELLINGTON NORTH – Changes to the township’s procedural bylaw, to allow council to maintain the option of continuing with electronic meetings, have been approved.

Council approved the changes on Aug. 10 meeting.

Council has been meeting via video conference under emergency legislation passed by the province on March 19 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wellington County and local municipalities have also declared emergency status at the local level.

While electronic participation of council members was previously allowed, the new legislation permits remote participants to count toward a quorum and to participate in closed sessions.

Bill 197, omnibus legislation that includes provisions allowing local governmental bodies to continue to hold meetings in an electronic or remote manner, recently received Royal Assent.

Changes to the procedural bylaw in Wellington North allow council members participating in a remote open or closed meeting to be counted towards a quorum and removes a requirement for electronic participation to be allowed only in cases of a declared emergency.

Councillor Sherry Burke asked if the intent was to allow remote meetings only during the current pandemic situation  “or is this something that under extreme circumstances – somebody breaks a leg or whatever and isn’t able to come – are they still going to be able to Zoom in or call in to join that meeting?”

Clerk Karren Wallace explained the intent was to  allow council to continue remote meetings “once we lift our declared emergency.

“We still do not have the ability to do a hybrid version, where some people can go to council and be in person and one person can remote in [via] Zoom meeting,” said Wallace.

“If we wanted to do that, everybody in the council chambers would have to participate through Zoom as well in order to get the remote person in … At this point it is all or nothing. We all Zoom in or we all show up.”

Mayor Andy Lennox said the intent is “just to continue  to allow us to respond to the pandemic.

“We could, during the pandemic go back to in-person meetings … this gives us the flexibility to respond either way,” said the mayor.

As to whether the provisions would continue post-pandemic, Lennox said, “I think that’s too unpredictable. I think we have to address that when the moment arises.”

Wallace pointed out some councils have elected to go back to in-person meetings and are moving meetings around to larger facilities in order to accommodate physical distancing.

“That’s like a Whack-A-Mole game I think,” said Wallace. “The public is always trying to catch up to where we are. There’s a lot of staff involved in setting up, disinfecting and cleaning.”

Councillor Lisa Hern said, “I think this (meeting remotely) is the most transparent and accessible way to do it.”

Lennox said a member of the public recently approached him and said, “‘Keep meeting by Zoom. We love to watch it.’

“So I think it has been well received.”

A motion to amend the bylaw to facilitate continued remote council meetings was approved unanimously.

Though there was some general discussion at council’s July 27 meeting of proxy voting, a new provision allowed under Bill 127, the concept was not included in the proposed list of bylaw amendments and was not discussed on Aug. 10.