West Kelowna residents who wish to participate in public hearings from the safety of their homes may be able to do that soon, even after public health restrictions ease.
During its meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 12), West Kelowna’s council voiced its approval to change its procedural bylaw to allow the public to participate in meetings digitally.
If community members respond positively to the amendment, things could change in future meetings.
The move comes after the provincial government rescinded the order that enabled cities and municipalities across B.C. to offer electronic participation for communities in order to minimize COVID-19 transmission.
The province’s order expired on Sept. 29, which meant local governments had to make the decision to either continue electronic participation or not.
“We’ve used that (order) extensively for the last year and a half. It’s been very successful and good,” West Kelowna CAO Paul Gipps said.
“We’re quite worried that without that ability in the constant changing challenges with COVID, and who else knows what comes down the pipe in the future, our ability to pivot and manage meetings in a public way would be more challenged.
“A number of cities are adding an amendment to their procedure bylaw to allow council to be able to offer electronic meetings or a combination of electronic and public participation.”
Gipps added that before the bylaw can be amended, public input must first be gathered.
“That input goes back to council, then council can decide to amend the bylaw after that,” he said.
Coun. Rick de Jong said he fully supported amending the bylaw.
“Certainly with COVID, it forced us and communities around the province and around the country to embrace the technology around remote dial-in and being able to conduct business through electronic means,” he said.
“I think moving forward that’s not all going to go away and that’s not bad. That’s a good thing to allow members of the public to communicate and take part in meetings remotely.”
Coun. Stephen Johnston, on the other hand, said he wants to see in-person public hearings reinstated when safe.
“I really think we need to get back to in-person public hearings. I think it’s important that the community comes out to represent their point of view on an issue,” he said.
“I think it’s valuable to see people in front of you communicating their view.”
Council gave the bylaw amendment first, second, and third readings. It will move forward for public input in the next few days.