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COVID-19: Council changes procedures for public meetings, hearings

Monday night’s city council meeting was completely different than normal as the city continues to conduct its business and adheres to provincial guidelines to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Councillors were spaced out (physically, not mentally), the media was absent (physically, not mentally) and instead tuned in over the internet, and chairs in the public gallery were, for the most part, taped off.

During the meeting, council unanimously approved a number of temporary procedural changes to align council meetings with the province’s ministerial orders prohibiting gatherings in excess of 50 people and recommendations relating to physical distancing.

The approved recommendations are aimed at enhancing transparency and public participation as much as possible while continuing to operate under the Provincial Health Officer’s orders and guidelines:

1. All members of council will be allowed to attend council meetings by telephone if they wish to do so.

2. Staff will discontinue informal hearings for development variance permit applications, temporary use permit applications, and other applications where such hearings are not legally required to be held. Written submissions received from the public in connection with such applications will continue to be placed on the council meeting agenda for council’s consideration, but not within a public hearing process.

3. Staff will include a recommendation in staff reports to council that introduce a rezoning bylaw for first and second readings regarding whether the public hearing should be waived for that application. The criteria that must be met in order for staff to recommend that council waive a public hearing include:

a. the rezoning application is consistent with the Official Community Plan;
b. approval of the rezoning application is supported by Staff; and
c. a public hearing on the application is not expected to generate significant public input.

Council will be asked to pass a resolution to waive a public hearing for each application, on a case-by-case basis. Public notice will still need to be published and sent to property owners within the distance prescribed by bylaw. Members of the public may provide a written submission that would be included on the council meeting agenda for council’s consideration, but not within a public hearing process.

4. If a public hearing is not eligible to be waived or is not waived by council, staff will postpone the public hearing to the extent practicable, without unduly disrupting essential decisions necessary for the community.

5. If a public hearing proceeds, staff will develop and follow a careful strategy to comply with any applicable Provincial Health Officer orders and guidelines regarding the size of gatherings and physical distancing, while maintaining procedural fairness requirements.

6. Staff will prepare council meeting agendas utilizing the ministerial order authority for council to give bylaws three readings and adoption at the same meeting where appropriate.

7. Staff will discontinue “in person” delegation presentations within council meeting agendas, but will provide opportunities for written submissions from delegations.
8. Staff will only allow public attendance at council meetings that have a public hearing scheduled. council meetings will continue to be live-streamed on the city’s website, recorded, and will remain available online for viewing in the usual manner.

9. Council authorizes the mayor to vary the start time of regular council meetings scheduled to commence at 6 p.m. to reflect the amount of council business, or to cancel such meetings entirely.

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