For close to 15 months, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the public has not been able to attend Summerland’s municipal council meetings in person.
Instead, the meetings have been held virtually and streamed online as its happening. Those who wish to comment at a public hearing or during a public comment session may do so over the internet or by telephone.
While the province is in the process of relaxing its COVID-19 protocols, Karen Needham, Summerland’s director of corporate services, said the physical distancing requirements are still in place for municipal meetings.
“We’ll soon be able to do in-person meetings,” she said.
At present, some members of council have been together in the council chambers, while others have been participating from their homes. Because of the physical distancing requirements, the public is not permitted in the council chambers at present.
During the pandemic, a provincial health order set out the protocols for municipal governments as they conduct meetings. The order stated that open meetings must be transparent, but a council or governing body is not required to allow the public to attend if attendance cannot be accommodated under the requirements of the public health act.
The technology for virtual meetings and live-streaming will remain in place after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, Needham said.
She said hybrid meetings will be likely following the pandemic.
The ministerial order allowing for virtual meetings is set to expire on July 10, but the measures set up for the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to continue after the pandemic is over.
“The lessons we’ve learned during the past year have shown us how we can do things better,” Josie Osborne, Minister of Municipal Affairs said in June.
“We are hearing that having the option to participate in public hearings and meetings virtually is more equitable for people who face barriers to joining in person, which is why we are giving communities the power to do a mix of virtual, in-person or hybrid meetings, while maintaining transparency safeguards.”
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