It may have been the quickest council meeting in history.
New Westminster city council met this morning to adopt a bylaw allowing council to meet electronically. At a special COVID-19-related meeting on March 23, council gave three readings to a bylaw to amend the city’s procedure bylaws to allow meetings to take place electronically during an emergency.
With adoption of the bylaw the only item on the agenda, the meeting lasted less than two minutes. Mayor Jonathan Cote and councilors Chinu Das, Patrick Johnstone, Chuck Puchmayr and Mary Trentadue attended the meeting in council chamber – with ample space between them – and Jaimie McEvoy attended electronically.
Council approved adoption of the bylaw.
“Over the past two weeks, the province has issued a number of orders regarding local government rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said a staff report. “Ministerial Order No. M083 allows for regular meetings to be held electronically during the period of the pandemic. However, since this is only for the COVID-19 pandemic, staff are recommending the changes to the procedure bylaw to enable council to meet electronically without a special ministerial order or a change to the Community Charter.”
At the April 3 meeting, council also received correspondence on the issue from West End resident Christopher Bell who requested some wording changes be made to the bylaw, including one that he felt may eliminate the requirement for the public to be able to hear or watch electronic meetings.
“In the proposed amendment Section 7A (1) (a) states that, ‘meetings to deal with an urgent matter may be conducted by means of electronic or other communications facilities.’ I find this definition far too general and wish the word ‘urgent’ to be more defined, as the word is open to a vast interpretation and might include almost any issue any mayor or councillor deems ‘urgent,’” he wrote in an email to the city. “It would appear that you have opened up meetings required for EMERGENCY issues to those that are simply URGENT.”
Council did not address Bell’s questions, but, following the meeting, Johnstone said someone should follow up with him.
In addition to agreeing to meet electronically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, council also supported other staff recommendations, which were made to address concerns about public gatherings. These include suspending open delegations, public presentations and presentation of proclamations for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, and cancelling public hearings during the pandemic.
In response to the COVID-19 situation, council met electronically on March 30, at which time it received two reports related to the city’s pandemic response and approved several recommendations from working groups that have been formed on a variety of issues, including education and enforcement , and businesses and a working economy.
New Westminster city council is scheduled to meet again on Monday, April 6.