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District working on audio options for public meetings of council

Mayor Gerry Thiessen said council is not currently considering video broadcast of meetings.
Space for media and public in Vanderhoof council chambers on June 22 during a regular public meeting. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)

The District of Vanderhoof is planning an audio option for the July 13 public meeting, so residents of Vanderhoof can listen in to council meetings.

Asked why a video broadcast option was not being considered, as other councils in B.C. have done, Mayor Gerry Thiessen said, “I think that is what Vanderhoof is. We will take one step at a time and see how people react and take decisions.”

Thiessen also said that the district has reached out to B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson, to come up with a common platform so not every community in B.C. is “re-inventing what they do.”

Communities surrounding Vanderhoof, including Prince George, Fraser Lake, Burns Lake and Fort St. James provided video or audio feeds for residents to observe council meetings when the pandemic hit in March.

READ MORE: New ministerial guidelines require B.C. councils to make public meetings accessible

When Thiessen was asked why Vanderhoof council hadn’t considered video for the past few months, he said council chambers did not have the capacity.

“We (mayor and council) decided to meet in person to keep the community going, and had an opinion. We were following guidelines.”

Thiessen said minutes were released after public meetings, but did not provide a clear response when asked how those meetings were transparent if the public could not watch real-time decision-making by council, as dictated in the provincial Community Charter legislation.

Council chambers were open on June 22 during a public meeting. When asked by the Express why chambers weren’t open for the past few months if a member of the media and few members of the public could have safely attended from the start, Thiessen said council has to abide by the provincial health officer’s guidelines for physical distancing.

READ MORE: Public, media blocked from Vanderhoof council meetings for months

Currently, there is no guarantee on how many people will be allowed in council meetings as it depends on how many councillors or management staff are at the meeting themselves, he said.

Recently, B.C.’s Ombudsperson Jay Chalke released a report indicating that the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth did not have the authority to bar the public from open meetings of council.

READ MORE: Barring public from open council meetings exceeded authority: B.C. Ombudsperson

Aman Parhar
Editor, Vanderhoof Omineca Express

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Mayor and some members of council during the regular public meeting held Monday, June 22. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)