Public will be able to call into meetings
By Chad Ingram
During their June 18 meeting, Algonquin Highlands council discussed how residents might be able to partake in public meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While they were initially suspended following a declaration of emergency by the provincial government, council meetings within Haliburton County have resumed within the past couple of months. The province passed special legislation allowing municipal councils to meet remotely using electronic means, something that is normally prohibited under the Municipal Act. Council meetings have been taking place via online conferencing platform Zoom and broadcast to the public on YouTube.
Public meetings are those where members of the public
are able to make comment, and are most commonly held for legislated,
“Staff were initially concerned with proceeding with virtual public meetings for a variety of reasons including conducting site visits by staff and committee members, internet accessibility and general transparency of conducting a public meeting virtually,” read a report from Algonquin Highlands planner Sean O’Callaghan. “ . . . after discussions with staff of the other townships in the county all are working towards holding virtual public meetings. Given the loosening restrictions with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff are comfortable at this time to recommend moving forward with virtual public meetings with proper safety precautions in place.”
There was some discussion about members of the public possibly partaking in meetings via Zoom, however Mayor Carol Moffatt noted that may be problematic for residents who are less computer-savvy, and also that the township has unreliable internet connectivity.
“There is the option that they could phone in, or alternatively, some municipalities have set up a computer for members of the public to use, so we could look at that option as well,” O’Callaghan said.
“I will confess I have serious concerns about our ability to provide an adequate process for public consultation in a duly constituted public process, with the challenges we have with internet and access and the generalized IT knowledge of some members of the community,” Moffatt said. Thursday’s Algonquin Highlands meeting was fraught with internet connectivity problems resulting in councillors and staff members becoming frozen on screen at various points in time.
It was ultimately agreed that members of the public would be given the option of phoning into public meetings.
O’Callaghan also recommended that residents interested in a particular issue submit comments in writing to the township.