Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw that could change how council deals with civil emergencies and in how public presentations are made to council.
Members voted in favour of the first two readings of a new council procedures bylaw at its Jan. 25 meeting.
The proposed bylaw came forward after months of work to draft the document that is planned to replace the current procedures bylaw.
In a previous report to council, Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, noted different parts of the current procedures bylaw have been amended over the years “resulting in a confusing organization of its content, and some gaps, internal conflicts or redundancies.”
“In addition, during the current council’s term of office occasions have arisen that have suggested certain additions or clarifications to the existing bylaw would be helpful.”
Among the changes would be provision for council to hold a decision-making meeting with shortened or even no notice to the public without quorum required in the case of a civil emergency that “poses an immediate danger to people and/or to public or private property, and for which urgent, timely action by council is required.”
If, in those circumstances, a quorum of at least four members cannot be reached, the council members who are available would meet to decide how to handle the emergency.
Then any such decision would be subject to a review by council “at the earliest opportunity when a quorum can reasonably be convened to confirm, modify or overturn the authorization.”
Another change would come in how delegations are made to council.
Currently, due to COVID-19, those wanting to make presentations are required to provide written submissions to council that are then read into the record at a meeting.
Prior to COVID-19, and under the current bylaw, those wishing to appear as delegates could do so by registering in advance or by making the request just before a meeting with council typically voting to allow the delegation.
As Constable explained previously, that can create a lot of last minute “scrambling” as staff may have to pass on written material from the delegate to council, ensure technology the delegate wants to use is available and ready for use, and provide information to the captioned who’s providing closed captioning for the broadcast/streaming of the meeting.
Under the proposed bylaw, delegates would be required to register by 1:30 p.m. on the day of a council meeting. They will be required to provide their name, address and contact information as well as the subject of their delegation.
Delegates will no longer, however, be required to state their addresses during their presentation to council. Instead they will state the area where they live as well as whether they are speaking as an individual or on behalf of an organization.
Before council voted to pass the first two readings of the bylaw on Jan. 25, a delegation presentation from Keith Lay was read into the record by Constable.
In his presentation, Lay made a number of suggestions for rewording various sections of the bylaw.
He also argued against a provision that would give delegates longer than the five-minute allotment, provided they request and council approves the time extension before the presentation. Lay argued that beyond a possible medical reason, all delegates should be given the same amount of time to speak.
Lay wrapped up his submission by encouraging the city to keep the delegation submissions in place that have been established due to COVID-19 after the pandemic ends in addition to the in-person option.
Such a move, he said, may “encourage more citizens to participate”. He pointed out it would allow those who are unable to make it to council meetings due to scheduling conflicts to make presentations as well as provide another option for those uncomfortable being on camera as they would be during the weekly broadcast of the council meeting.
Questioned later in the meeting by Coun. Steve Roddick about the possibility of continuing with delegation changes that have been made in light of COVID-19 in addition to in-person options post-COVID, Constable said the COVID provisions have not been written into the bylaw, but there would be nothing to prevent such an amendment being made in the future.
Both councillors Dan Boyd and Laura Cabott also commented on the bylaw noting that while they support the first two readings of the bylaw moving forward as is, they are hoping for a few changes before third reading comes forward.
Cabott noted she’d like greater clarity on exactly what constitutes an emergency before third reading comes forward.
It’s anticipated third reading will come forward in February.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org