Nearly two years into the pandemic, Collingwood is still firming up the rules for electronic council meetings, with recent changes applied to councillors participating in meetings with the camera turned off.
During Monday’s (Dec. 13) regular meeting of council, councillors voted unanimously in favour of passing their new procedural bylaw. The main change to meeting timing moving forward will be that the strategic initiatives standing committee meetings will now take place the first Monday of the month at 5 p.m., while the corporate and community services committee meetings will take place the first Monday of the month at 2 p.m.
Based on a recent occurrence at the Dec. 7 special strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, an amendment was also added to provide clarification on councillors’ virtual participation.
“It’s obvious this stems from me. For the past seven years, I’ve probably made it to every meeting, but it’s been commonly known that I work Tuesdays and Wednesdays in my store,” said Coun. Bob Madigan. “I can’t afford to close my store to attend all meetings.”
During the Dec. 7 special strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, Madigan was in virtual attendance. At that time, he spoke at the beginning of the meeting to clarify he was working at another job, and may not be available for certain votes during the meeting. He also kept his camera off throughout the meeting except when he was voting.
A provision was added to the procedural bylaw this week that if a member participating remotely must leave a meeting where they are not able to participate in the discussion or vote, the member must immediately inform the recording secretary of their absence to be acknowledged in the minutes, and further advise the chair.
Any vote taken during their absence would only include the members present. Should a member participating in the meeting remotely not make their vote known at the time the vote is called, and has not advised the recording secretary of their absence, the vote shall be considered an abstention and therefore be deemed as a negative vote.
The clerk noted in the staff report on the bylaw that the addition was made based on “recent confusion.”
“Most of it will come down to our councillors’ integrity and willingness to be open and transparent about their participation,” said Coun. Kathy Jeffery.
Coun. Tina Comi asked about the net impact on attendance.
“It could, in a worst-case scenario, be warped into a unique way to get a check box for attendance without being fully present,” said Comi.
Clerk Sara Almas said appropriate training would be provided to councillors on changes to the procedural bylaw.
Madigan said that he attended council virtually while working at his store for the last two committee meetings scheduled for a Tuesday/Wednesday.
“I wasn’t looking for an attendance check. I was listening through an earbud. Unfortunately, if I can’t get to the camera, I respectfully keep it off. I thought it showed respect to my colleagues and the public,” he said. “I care about this town just as much as my other colleagues. I do apologize and I will reach out to the clerk off-camera.”
A procedural bylaw outlines rules and responsibilities for councillors, staff and the public regarding how council and committee meetings are held and run, and provide rules of decorum.
Members of council sit for three different committees monthly:
- Strategic Initiatives
- Corporate and Community Services
- Development and Operations Services
The existing system divides up the broad range of council responsibility into specialized areas of interest. Not all council members serve on each committee. There are also two regular council meetings at the end of each month to ratify the business discussed at the three meetings.