The Regional District of Nanaimo will continue to hold virtual meetings.
The RDN board elected not to conduct in-person meetings anytime soon, with the issue discussed at their committee of the whole meeting on Sept. 8.
General manager of corporate services, Delcy Wells, indicated in her report there has been increased pressure to hold in-person meetings, which have been suspended since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March. All meetings have been held virtually.
Wells explained the RDN cannot open the meetings to the public at this time as the board chambers is limited to 13 people and to allow more than that would likely lead to violation of physical distancing protocols.
Staff had looked at relocating the meetings to the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, which has the capacity and space to allow more people. This option would cost approximately $16,750 for October to December.
Wells also pointed out the RDN can also seek opinions from a qualified professional to determine if the board chambers can be modified and how much it would cost.
Some directors did not want to prolong the virtual meetings and wanted staff to look at various options to bring back in-person meetings sooner. However, Electoral Area H (Bowser, Qualicum Bay, Deep Bay) director Stuart McLean made a motion to refer the matter until the board holds its budget discussions for 2021.
“I guess perhaps for now it would stay status quo but if this goes on for a long time I think next year we should look at different options,” said McLean. “Whether that includes having $70,000 for budget so we can actually have real meetings then we should consider that.”
Electoral Area E (Nanoose Bay) director Bob Rogers pointed out budget deliberations doesn’t start until February and are approved by the end of March next year.
“We would be taking six to seven months of this so I can’t support this motion to refer this to budget,” said Rogers, who preferred to direct staff to come up with options to allow in-person meetings to happen now. He added with schools, restaurants, recreation centres and other facilities now open to the public, they should as directors lead by example.
“When I look through the provincial policies on the changes and so on we have significant responsibility I think in governance and that significant responsibility is to involve the public and also to have discussions as elected officials and be able to give directions to staff,” Rogers explained.
Electoral Area F (Coombs, Hilliers, Errington, Whiskey Creek, Meadowood) director Leanne Salter said she’s also cannot wait until the next budget to address the issue.
“I really think that’s pushing that off to the future that something will happen between now and then,” said Salter. “We have to address it.”
City of Nanaimo director Leonard Krog said these are not ordinary times.
“We have a responsibility to set an example for the community and I come back to my old mind about solutions in search of a problem,” he said. “Is there any huge public demand? Are we getting piles of emails from anyone saying ‘Oh please, you know, go back to your public meetings and go back to the old ways of doing things?’ I don’t just see it. I feel this is the safest and healthiest way for staff, not just directors, to be able to carry on the business of the regional district.”
City of Nanaimo director Sheryl Armstrong suggested plastic cages that cost $200 that are being used in other areas as a one simple solution.
“There’s more solutions other than just looking at other places,” she said.
McLean’s motion eventually was passed by the committee.