Mayor Cam Guthrie has called for an emergency session of City Council to take place Monday March 23 at 6 pm. The move follows the passage of the Municipal Emergency Act yesterday by the Ontario government, which allows municipal councils to carry on business electronically while authorities are continuing to recommend social distancing and the avoidance of large gatherings.
“During these unusual times, my fellow councillors and I are focused on serving our community and ensuring the City can continue to deliver effective services for our residents, businesses and front-line staff in a timely manner,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in a statement Friday. “When we meet on Monday, we will discuss issues related to protecting the health and safety of our community and minimizing disruptions to service in response to COVID-19.”
As of this writing, a complete agenda for the meeting is not yet available, but according to the media release, council will consider passing some items from March’s Committee of the Whole meeting, potential declarations and the delegation of authorities to staff, and procedural measures to allow the remote participation by members of council.
“I suspect we’ll have a an addendum out like Monday morning with any kind of final tweaks, but you can expect to see [an agenda] later today,” said City Clerk Stephen O’Brien when reached by phone on Friday afternoon.
Most items from this month’s Committee of the Whole will get the confirmation vote that typically comes at the end of the month at the regular meeting of council. The final vote on the Clair-Maltby Open Systems Strategy and the Notice of Motion to re-open the vote on the decision report for 361 Whitelaw will wait for a more usual meeting of council.
“We’re looking at moving agenda items that saw broad support at Committee of the Whole, and being sensitive to those items that are of good public interest,” O’Brien said. “It is hoped that we can eventually get those things back on the floor for council.”
The other big question is who all will be attending in-person, and how will the others participate remotely. Presently three members of city council are self-isolating out of concerns of exposure to COVID-19, and others are taking similar precautions. O’Brien said that it will be a skeletal crew in the council chambers on Monday.
“Myself, my staff, the executive team, and the mayor as chair will be in the meeting, and we will obviously be very cognizant of social distancing when we’re in that space,” O’Brien said.
So how will councillors take part in the meeting? “Through the WebEx tool,” O’Brien explained, adding that the City’s I.T. staff is currently working to implement the technology. If all goes according to plan, when you tune into the live-steam on Monday you will see a grid of images including the council chambers and every person teleconferencing into the meeting.
“There’s still important work for council to do, and this may be something that we use more regularly during the COVID-19 pandemic depending on how long we find ourselves in this current state of affairs,” O’Brien said.
If all doesn’t go according to play, the typical live-stream view should still be available, but all those attending the meeting remotely visible on the project screen above the chair’s seat in the centre of the horseshoe. All votes will be taken with a show of hands.
“We’ve had WebEx previously, but we’ve never actually considered it or contemplated it for meetings,” O’Brien added. “We’re sort of moving through this in a moment-by-moment, day-by-day process to determine how exactly we get these things and pull this all together.”