City council to consider reopening meetings to the public

On Monday city council will consider reopening their meeting for the public to attend in person.

City council meetings have been closed to the public since council approved closing the meetings on April 6 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city was authorized to close the meetings under a ministerial order issued under the B.C. Emergency Program Act on March 26.

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City council has continue to hold meetings in council chambers at city hall without the public present. Live video streams of the meetings continued to be available for the public to watch.

"On June 17, 2020, the province replaced Ministerial Order No. M139 with Order No. M192, moving local government open meetings towards normal operations in support of the restart process," city general manager of administrative services Walter Babicz wrote in a report to council. "Order No. M192 requires that municipal councils use best efforts to allow members of the public to attend open meetings of the council, in a manner that is consistent with any applicable requirements or recommendations made under the Public Health Act."

If city council votes to continue keeping the meetings closed to the public, then they must adopt a resolution providing the rationale for doing so and describe what measures are being taken to maintain public accountability and transparency, Babicz wrote.

"In our circumstances, with the physical distancing arrangements and sanitizing protocols

currently in place for public attendance at those council meetings that include public hearings, staff does not foresee a situation where an open meeting of council would need to be closed to the public," Babicz wrote. "As mentioned in previous reports, the city’s council chambers and adjacent conference room should provide adequate space for members of the public to attend the meeting for observation or to provide representations to council."

However, he wrote, at this time city administration is recommending that council continue to avoid holding informal public hearings and waive public hearings for rezoning applications that are consistent with the Official Community Plan, are supported by city administration and are not expected to generate significant public input. City council has had those measures in place since the beginning of the pandemic.

The new ministerial order also changes the timeline for adopting bylaws. 

Under the previous pandemic provisions, city councils were permitted to adopt most bylaws at the same meeting they were given the first three readings. Under the new ministerial order, only certain types of financial bylaws can be approved on the same day as the first three readings are given.

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