By Chad Ingram
During their June 18 meeting Algonquin Highlands council discussed howresidents might be able to partake in public meetings during theCOVID-19 pandemic.
While they were initially suspended following adeclaration of emergency by the provincial government council meetingswithin Haliburton County have resumed within the past couple of months.The province passed special legislation allowing municipal councils tomeet remotely using electronic means something that is normallyprohibited under the Municipal Act. Council meetings have been takingplace via online conferencing platform Zoom and broadcast to the publicon YouTube.
Public meetings are those where members of the publicare able to make comment and are most commonly held for legislatedplanning matters.
“Staff were initially concerned with proceedingwith virtual public meetings for a variety of reasons includingconducting site visits by staff and committee members internetaccessibility and general transparency of conducting a public meetingvirtually” read a report from Algonquin Highlands planner SeanO’Callaghan. “ . . . after discussions with staff of the other townships in the county all are working towards holding virtual public meetings.Given the loosening restrictions with respect to the COVID-19 pandemicstaff are comfortable at this time to recommend moving forward withvirtual public meetings with proper safety precautions in place.”
There was some discussion about members of the public possibly partaking inmeetings via Zoom however Mayor Carol Moffatt noted that may beproblematic for residents who are less computer-savvy and also that the township has unreliable internet connectivity.
“There is theoption that they could phone in or alternatively some municipalitieshave set up a computer for members of the public to use so we couldlook at that option as well” O’Callaghan said.
“I will confess Ihave serious concerns about our ability to provide an adequate processfor public consultation in a duly constituted public process with thechallenges we have with internet and access and the generalized ITknowledge of some members of the community” Moffatt said. Thursday’sAlgonquin Highlands meeting was fraught with internet connectivityproblems resulting in councillors and staff members becoming frozen onscreen at various points in time.
It was ultimately agreed that members of the public would be given the option of phoning into public meetings.
O’Callaghan also recommended that residents interested in a particular issue submit comments in writing to the township.