As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and restrictions are reimplemented — such as the two week self-isolation period for anyone entering the Yukon — Whitehorse city council is hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents hoping to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection.
At Whitehorse city council’s Nov. 19 meeting, Coun. Samson Hartland raised the topic, first pointing to the recent administrative decision to require masks be worn at the Canada Games Centre and Takhini Arena in concourse and spectating areas. Since then, it’s been announced that starting Nov. 23 masks will also be required on city transit with exceptions for those with underlying medical issues or disabilities that inhibit the ability to wear a mask, those unable to remove a mask without assistance, anyone under five years old, or first responders in an emergency.
“Wearing a mask on transit vehicles is a small gesture to make to help keep everyone on board safe,” Mayor Dan Curtis said.
At the council meeting, Hartland noted that while adaptations such as mask use are being made to deal with COVID-19, city residents have not been able to speak directly to council since the spring.
That’s when the city began restricting public access to council chambers due to COVID-19.
Instead, residents have been asked to submit written comments for delegations, public hearing and public input sessions where they would normally address council directly to submit their comments in writing to the city via email.
Hartland indicated he’d like to find a way to allow residents to speak more directly with council.
“I’d like to move quickly on this,” he said.
Councillors Laura Cabott and Steve Roddick were also vocal in their support for more direct presentations from the public.
As Cabott noted the city has gone a long time without those presentations happening.
“It’s been eight months,” she said.
Both council and the public are missing it, she suggested, adding if other municipalities have found ways to make public presentations happen, there should be a way for it to happen with Whitehorse as well.
Roddick, meanwhile, said he would like to see more follow up about the possibilities. There could be big opportunities in teleconference options or video conferencing even if delegates are unable to get back into chambers, he said.
Acting city manager Mike Gau said that while chambers aren’t expected to open to the public soon as proper spacing can’t be maintained with more people there, the city is looking at virtual options that would allow for more direct participation.
In an emailed statement Nov. 19 city spokesperson Myles Dolphin said efforts are underway.
“We are still exploring our options when it comes to public presentations, and hope to have a solution soon,” he wrote.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org