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Hamilton councillors weigh post-pandemic ‘virtual’ meetings
June 28, 2021

The last time Hamilton council met in person to discuss city business was March 20, 2020 in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid a massive shutdown of city buildings and programs, local politicians followed suit, opting to meet “virtually” online.

Only mask-wearing committee chairs and clerks have been at city hall to lead meetings with councillors beamed in from laptops at home. But the physical-distancing measure during the public health emergency could become a permanent option for councillors.

The city’s governance subcommittee supports a bylaw change that would allow councillors to participate in meetings remotely.

Coun. Brad Clark said he figured most elected officials would opt to be at city hall, nonetheless.

“I’m not seeing that there’s going to be a lot of councillors that do virtual participation versus in-person participation.”

City hall watchers have been able to keep up with council deliberations by watching sometimes glitchy meetings on YouTube or the municipal website.

It’s important for councillors to conduct meetings around the city hall “horseshoe,” Coun. Maureen Wilson said.

“However, I am thinking about ways and means we could perhaps make sitting as an elective representative more accessible.”

The flexibility of participating in meetings remotely, for instance, could encourage single parents to run for office, Wilson said.

City clerk Andrea Holland said staff aren’t recommending specific conditions to join meetings virtually apart from the two days’ notice.

“It’s really up to each member of council to decide whether they want to use it or not.”

It’s also proposed that members of the public continue to have the option of making delegations via internet feed or video submissions in addition to the traditional pre-pandemic practice of in-person addresses.

Holland says the existing staffing contingent of six legislative co-ordinators, who handle 63 committees, won’t be “sustainable” with the added virtual workload.

Her office is asking for two additional full-timers at a cost of $124, 175.

Running “hybrid” meetings in the council chamber and a smaller room where other committees meet will also require a $60,000 technological upgrade.

The rest of council still has to weigh in on the governance subcommittee’s initial approval of the proposed changes.

No date has been set for councillors’ resumption of regular city hall meetings.