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Virtual meetings enshrined in Council procedure bylaw

 

Virtual meetings enshrined in Council procedure bylaw

John Best

To those watching Mondays’ meeting of Hamilton’s Governance Review Sub-committee, it was at times difficult to see how the proposed 81-page bylaw governing how council meetings are conducted, was much different from existing practices. Over a three-and-a-half hour discussion, the committee recommended some minor changes but appeared to accept most of the staff recommendations. A large portion of the recommended changes dealt with altering the rules to accommodate the reality of virtual meetings made necessary by the COVID pandemic. Some of the recommendations dealt with procedures to react to loss of a council or committee quorum because a member’s WIFI connection froze or failed, as sometimes happens.

Out-of-town meetings

One of the few issues of contention was language that would allow Council to hold meetings outside the city. This was the fallout from the selection committee meeting that was staged in the last term of council at the White Oaks Conference Centre in Niagara to select a new city manager to replace Chris Murray. Complaints were made to the Ontario Ombudsman who, while finding there was nothing illegal about the venue of the meetings, said Council had erred in not following the proper procedure for going in camera to interview candidates. Councillor Ferguson was concerned that council not “be handcuffed” in holding such a meeting. Ferguson noted the meetings to interview City Manager Candidates was moved off-site, to protect the privacy of candidates and not jeopardize their existing employment. Reporters staked out the resort, but there was no news coverage that identified candidates. It was explained that even if council decided to ban such meetings, it always had the power to rescind such a ban if the situation warranted it.

Criticism of staff and /or councillors

There was also some debate about a recommendation that letters of the public that contain criticism of staff or a member of council have the names of those criticized individuals redacted. Councillor Brad Clark was concerned that such an order would limit fair comment, particularly fair comment about elected officials.

Perhaps, since a good portion of the discussion centered around council decorum, the meeting was unusually decorous.

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