Vanderhoof District Council meetings are steps closer to greater public access after the first, second, and third reading of a new bylaw allowing electronic meetings, was passed on Oct. 12.
The ongoing issues of open meetings, public and media attendance and council transparency may finally have found a resolution after council members unanimously voted on the amendment to Bylaw No. 1236, 2021, Procedures Bylaw. The amendment will also permit, under a new electronic means policy, council members to attend meetings virtually.
“This bylaw will allow for a framework where the meetings will be live-streamed in the future. They’ll be posted online, to our website and other platforms to make sure that if you’re not available at 5:30 on the day of the council meeting, you still can go and observe the deliberations,” Gerald Pinchbeck, corporate administrative officer for Vanderhoof District Council, told The Express, on Oct. 14.
Pinchbeck said the intention of the council is to present virtually, in an online presentation mode, where observers may dial in to watch or listen to proceedings, without verbal participation, until the public question period.
When asked if meetings would be broadcast on community television, as CityWest does in other municipalities, Pinchbeck said that option had not been considered by council.
“As we go through, and we get familiar with live streaming our council meetings, the platforms that we can do that through will be under review. We can certainly look at something like the CityWest community channel.”
It may still be some time until meetings are virtual as the bylaw amendments are still required to be presented back to the council at an open meeting for final adoption. This is after a two-week public notification period in the newspaper, Pinchbeck said, adding that the issue may be back in front of the council just before the end of November.
“As part of our overall transparency strategy, council is very much interested in trying to find ways that we can not only better communicate with residents but give residents meaningful opportunities to get to know what’s going on at the council chambers, and see what municipal projects and initiatives we are working on,” the CAO said.
While many other district councils and municipalities had electronic means to include the public and media prior to, or in the very early stages of COVID-19, Pinchbeck said costs of equipment to stream online or virtually were a significant factor in the issue and are still being explored. Currently, he said meetings are being videoed with a camera and soundbar at the back of council chambers.
“It’s too early to say what we’d expect in terms of costs. But we are using the regional district’s costs as kind of the ballpark estimate for what we can reasonably expect to incur to have our cameras upgraded.”
He cited the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako as a reference point spending $125,000 on audio and visual equipment to have digital meetings, as well as the District of Houston spending $67,000 to do the same scope of work for much smaller chambers.
“… but with the COVID-19 safe restart grants from the province of B.C., we are able to utilize that towards upgrading our equipment, so that when we do live stream meetings, members of the public can clearly hear what the debate is rather than having to crank their speakers and potentially blow their eardrums.”
A confirmed timeline as to when a contract may be awarded for the audiovisual supply and installation is unknown, and he said the information will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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