Despite new provincial ministerial orders outlining expectations of open meeting transparency by municipal government, Vanderhoof council has not yet indicated how it intends to fulfill those requirements.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing sent an emailed statement to The Express on June 18 in response to questions about open council meetings. The communication referenced earlier ministerial orders, and the latest, M192, issued June 17.
“M192 requires that local governments make best efforts to enable the public to attend council/board meetings in person while complying with public health orders. It also requires that local governments make best efforts for electronic meetings to provide facilities that enable the public to watch and hear,” the email stated.
The ministry said if a municipality cannot maintain physical distancing in council chambers, local officials still need to provide ‘clear rationale,’ including how they are meeting the principles of transparency, accountability and accessibility.
The District of Vanderhoof released a statement on its Facebook page Tuesday (June 16) stating that Ministerial Order 139 gave them the authority to close their chambers to the public and media.
The statement indicated that municipal staff is working on establishing an open conference line to allow public to listen to council meetings. Additionally, the district referred to its agendas and minutes, stating that the public can access council agendas via email, and that the district has extended “all efforts to engage public.”
Carolyn Muller, a Vanderhoof resident, posted a Facebook comment below the district’s statement saying, “Viewing agenda and minutes does not give the public any insight to the discussions that led to decisions, nor the opportunity to participate in the direction of our community.”
Another resident, Eric Scheffers, posted a Facebook comment, “Nice, get a commitment for a video feed for the council meetings and end up with 30-year-old phone technology as a solution.”
The District of Vanderhoof said that council chambers doesn’t have the technological or physical capacity to offer alternative methods at this time.
District representatives, including the mayor and CAO, did not respond to a request for comment when asked by The Express what electronic options were being discussed and how long it would take them to implement.