The District of Vanderhoof will continue to record and upload its council meetings until B.C.’s four-step plan to bring British Columbians back together and allow for a gradual return to everyday life falls through.
Video options were made available in mid-December last year, in which meetings were videotaped and uploaded to the municipal website the next day.
“I’m not sure if that will be the July meetings or it will be the September meetings, but certainly our hope is by September that we’re back to public, and so that will be an exciting day to return to open meetings,” said Mayor Gerry Thiessen.
Last June, public and media were barred entry into council chambers as district officials cited ministerial orders issued by Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth.
That decision, however, was later reversed when BC’s Ombudsperson launched an investigative report stating Farnworth did not have the authority to issue ministerial orders that suspended or amended existing legislation.
From the end of June until Dec. 14, 2020, public and media were allowed into council chambers with social distancing measures in effect.
Since Dec. 14, council meetings have been recorded and uploaded, sometimes many days or weeks after, attributed to staffing issues. As of this week, the latest video available is from a regular council meeting held Monday, April 26.
The district has the capacity to record council meetings with video and audio, but not show them live as other communities such as Fort St. James, which is why they are later uploaded, said corporate officer Kendra Kinsley.
“We’re working on our technology as we speak to make it even more interactive, but at this point, we record them and they are put up on our website,” Thiessen said.
Local governments have the authority to hold electronic meetings under Ministerial Order M192 which states they are required to make their best efforts to ensure openness, transparency, accessibility and accountability to all community members, according to B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
This could include providing the opportunity for the public to comment on agenda items by email, letter or phone, said a ministry spokesperson.
“Recently, our government introduced legislative amendments that, when passed, will provide municipalities and regional districts in B.C. with a new, permanent authority providing the option to hold virtual and hybrid meetings in addition to in-person meetings, while maintaining transparency safeguards to protect public access and participation. These changes will come into effect once the COVID-19 emergency authorities for electronic meetings are lifted.”