The City of Kelowna is looking at ways its councillors can attend meetings virtually as the provincial government continues to urge residents’ social distancing.
City councillors attempting to follow the advice given by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to distance yourself from others have run into issues.
“In council chambers, it’s virtually impossible to be six feet apart from your colleagues,” said Coun. Loyal Wooldridge, who did not attend the city’s public hearing on March 17.
City clerk Stephen Fleming said work is underway to give councillors the ability to remotely attend both morning and afternoon council meetings by video and the ability to teleconference in will be available as soon as the next meeting on March 23.
“We have the ability in our procedure bylaw,” Fleming said. “Councillors have participated by telephone previously.”
By coincidence, Fleming said, the city had already begun rolling out a conference system in several rooms at city hall prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. That system will be used for the Monday morning meeting.
Implementing that system for the Monday afternoon meeting, however, will require a bit more work.
“There are no conference capabilities in council chambers,” said Fleming. “We’re going to try to see what we can do by setting up a camera and using that with our existing system.”
Fleming said, unfortunately, the live stream already broadcast on the city’s website would be of no use to councillors looking to participate from home as there is a 37-second delay.
“You can’t be participating and watching the meeting at the same time,” he said.
On Monday, the city will try a new system that will let councillors both see and hear the meeting.
Initiatives are also being worked on for residents’ participation in public hearings. Last week, the city limited the number of seats available to ensure social distancing and extended the availability for residents to submit their comments on issues in written form prior to the meeting so they didn’t have to sit through it.
For public hearings where a larger turnout is expected, Fleming said council will have to decide whether or not it should be deferred to a later date.