NORTH BATTLEFORD - After several months of holding meetings at the Chapel Gallery, North Battleford City Council will be going all-virtual — again.
Council has passed a resolution stating they will be doing their regular council and planning committee meetings remotely via the Zoom platform, effective Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, “until further notice."
But council made it known they want that “further notice” to be “as short as possible,” in the words of Councillor Kelli Hawtin, and that a venue be found to hold live meetings again.
Previously, the plan had been to return to City Hall chambers if there were lower COVID-19 case numbers. However, case numbers in the region remain high, which makes social distancing an issue in that venue.
There was support expressed at Monday’s meeting for the idea of doing some sort of “hybrid” model where some council members attended at City Hall, while others appeared remotely by Zoom.
The problem, City Manager Randy Patrick said, was a technological one. When they tried Zoom meetings from council, people “couldn’t hear and couldn’t see” council, he said.
Director of Corporate Services Jennifer Niesink further explained the cameras are an issue, due to the smaller size of the council chambers.
Another problem is that the equipment set up in Chapel Gallery cannot easily be transferred for use at the current City Hall chamber, either.
A wide-ranging discussion became, more accurately, a venting session by councillors about the quality of the microphones and cameras used at City Hall chambers in general, even before the pandemic hit.
“The cameras weren’t good, the sound wasn’t good, the microphones weren’t good,” said Councillor Len Taylor.
“Sooner or later it has to be changed anyway in council chambers, and maybe this is the time to look at it and see if this is the time to make that change.”
Patrick pledged to bring further information back to council to see if they could find a way to hold meetings live again at City Hall chambers and resolve the technological challenges.
In any event, council has little choice but to depart the Chapel Gallery, as the Gallery has an exhibition booked for the venue in October.
Council meetings had been held virtually over the Zoom platform since April. Starting in November of last year, most live meetings resumed at the Chapel Gallery and that venue had been hosting council meetings regularly since that time, while still allowing some councillors, administration and delegations to appear by Zoom. Lately, the meetings at the Chapel Gallery venue were seeing full attendance by council and administration officials.