Whitehorse residents may soon be able to more directly address Whitehorse city council.
At council’s Feb. 1 meeting, a recommendation was brought forward that would allow for delegates to speak before council once again, albeit by phone.
The change comes after COVID-19 saw a temporary end to in-person delegations. Prior to COVID, residents were able to speak directly to council at a council meeting or during public hearing or input opportunities on various issues. With the public no longer admitted to council meetings due to COVID, an alternative has been provided allowing delegates to make written submissions to the city that are then read into the record at the meeting.
Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, brought forward a number of changes to the temporary meeting practices that have been established under COVID.
The biggest change would provide delegates with an opportunity to address council via the GotoMeeting audio platform. To speak as a delegate, residents would be required to register by noon on the day of a council meeting and connect to the meeting via the platform by 5:20, 10 minutes before council’s weekly meetings begin.
As Constable explained when questioned by Coun. Samson Hartland, it took some time to find the right system for the city that allows for a moderator to prevent “Zoom bombers” as other municipalities — such as Juneau, Alaska — have seen in allowing delegates into meetings via online formats since COVID began. Efforts are underway in Juneau to address the situation with changes to how meetings are run and officials looking at options for legislation that would prevent such situations.
While a number of council members appeared pleased to have an option that would allow delegates to address council directly, they also indicated they would like the option for written submissions read into the record to continue.
As Hartland pointed out, the audio option may not work for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
There could also be others in the community who may prefer the option of written submissions for various reasons, it was noted.
Coun. Steve Roddick commented that having written submissions read into the record has been a positive development out of the changes established due to COVID.
“I see the benefits,” he said, describing it as a more inclusive option.
Constable explained that the call-in option was explored and is being proposed as council had indicated it wanted more direct interaction with delegates.
While the proposed changes would remove the provision to read written delegate submissions into the record, Constable noted council can bring forward amendments that would allow for that to continue.
Roddick also wondered about allowing public access to council and administrative roundtable meetings that are held to discuss issues in more detail prior to them coming forward to council.
Currently, the public is not permitted in the heritage boardroom at city hall where the meetings are held due to space restrictions under COVID regulations.
Constable said city staff have not looked at the possibility of having the public attend virtually or by phone.
Along with allowing delegates to address council via the GotoMeeting platform, there would other changes made to the temporary meeting practices to reflect that all members of council may be present and physically distant in council chambers or participate by teleconference.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the mayor or presiding council member for the meeting attended while other council members phoned into the meeting.
That remained in place until changes were made inside council chambers to ensure distance between members, who have been attending meetings in-person for some time.
Council will vote on whether to move forward with the changes Feb. 8.
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