By ROY WOOD
Oliver council is anxious to get back to meeting face-to-face and has told staff to figure out how to make it happen, although on-line public access seems to be a bit of a stumbling block.
The discussion Monday afternoon started out around the provincial restart plan to gradually moderate measures taken to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. But it moved quickly to a fulsome chat about when the mayor and councillors will be in the same room for meetings.
Starting April 14, regular and committee-of-the-whole meetings have been held virtually, with members of council and senior staff hooking up on the Zoom meeting app. The system has worked adequately, but technical issues and user miscues have caused meetings to sometimes be over-long and cumbersome.
Councillor Dave Mattes told fellow council members, “We need to move as quickly as possible back to in-person meetings.” Mattes cited the very low numbers of Covid cases in the Interior Health region generally and the South Okanagan in particular. “I hate to think we’re taking all this trouble for the sake of one person who may not exist.”
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger pointed out that unless council can meet somewhere that it is possible to continue with the two-metre social distancing protocol, meetings would have to remain virtual. The council chamber is too small to the appropriate distancing.
However, the council chamber is set up with a camera and microphones that provide on-line streaming so members of the public can watch the proceedings. Meetings of council are supposed to be public.
Water Councillor Rick Machial said that as far he is concerned it is more important to have face-to-face meetings than to worry about public access. Chief administrative officer Cathy Cowan told him the province strongly encourages public access to council proceedings.
Mayor Martin Johansen lamented, “I can’t see doing this for a year.” He added that staff needs to find a way to hold in-person meetings while maintaining appropriate distancing.
Schwartzenberger said it is important for the public to have access to the meetings, but suggested possibly recorded versions could be made available after the fact.
Councillor Petra Veintimilla emphasized that despite Mattes’ suggestion that Covid cases are very low in the area, “We need to provide the example by keeping two metres away.”
In the end, council directed staff to explore ways to hold at least some council meetings in person, with appropriate distancing and with some sort of electronic public access.
Other aspects of the restart plan approved this afternoon included:
Allowing some town committees to begin meeting again, but only remotely; and the re-opening of the town hall, finance and public works departments to the public with appropriate distancing protocols.