There could be a few changes coming to Whitehorse city council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies.
The changes were outlined in the proposed new council procedures bylaw that came forward to Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting.
The city has been working for a number of months on changes to the bylaw. As Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, told council, the bylaw has been amended incrementally throughout 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 a clause allowing council to hold a decision-making meeting with shortened or even no notice to the public and without quorum in the event 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.”
In those circumstances where such a meeting is required, but a quorum of members (at least four) cannot be met, council members that are available could make a decision on how to respond to the emergency.
“Such authorizations will be subject to subsequent review by council at the earliest opportunity when a quorum can reasonably be convened to confirm, modify or overturn the authorization.”
While Coun. Samson Hartland pointed out there’s no definition of civil emergency outlined in the definitions section of the bylaw, Constable pointed out that adding a definition can be limiting for emergency situations that are unpredictable.
Hartland described the clauses as “very enabling”, noting he wouldn’t want to see that section of the bylaw misused or misunderstood.
“It is quite sweeping,” he said, noting there will need to be some trust that future councils will take the bylaw seriously.
Coun. Dan Boyd also raised questions about what would constitute an emergency with Constable pointing to the section of the clause that notes it would pose an immediate danger with urgent action required by council.
“There are parameters,” she said.
Coun. Steve Roddick, meanwhile, called on Constable to outline the changes to how residents can address council as delegates when in-person presentations can once again be made inside council chambers.
Due to COVID-19, delegations are not being permitted inside chambers with residents being asked to instead submit their comments in writing. The comments are then read into the record at a council meeting.
Prior to COVID-19, and under the current bylaw, those wishing to appear as delegates can do so by registering in advance or they can request to do so just before a meeting with council typically voting to allow the delegation.
As Constable explained, 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 captioner 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.
An exception to that rule will be made for children and youth younger than 18 who will not be required to give the neighbourhood where they live. Constable noted that’s for safety reasons.
Coun. Dan Boyd also pointed out another clause requiring that delegates who want more time than the five minutes allocated to each speaker request that ahead of their presentation for council’s approval.
Under the current regulations, council can vote to allow the delegate to go beyond the five-minute limit once that limit is reached.
A number of other changes were made to reorganize sections of the bylaw and provide greater clarity.
Council will vote on whether to move forward with the bylaw at its Jan. 25 meeting.
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