Harrison Hot Springs Council is currently meeting at Memorial Hall on Esplanade Avenue. The next scheduled meeting is Dec. 7, 2020. (Adam Louis/Observer)

Harrison Hot Springs Council is currently meeting at Memorial Hall on Esplanade Avenue. The next scheduled meeting is Dec. 7, 2020. (Adam Louis/Observer)

Harrison Council to consider moving meetings to Zoom

With Restart Grant funding, HHS council ponders investing in online instead of in-person meetings

Harrison Hot Springs council meetings may be going virtual soon.

On Friday morning, the village released a busy agenda for the upcoming Monday council meeting. One of the key items up for consideration is a decision to suspend in-person council meetings until such time as provincial health officials deem it safe for the public to attend, migrating the meetings to the popular online communications platform Zoom.

Background

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued an order on Nov. 19 to suspend all social gatherings and events. Council meetings are exempt from this order, but it further stated “It is recommended that virtual meetings be held as much as possible.”

RELATED: Harrison Council fields online engagement, Zoom questions

A few weeks before these orders came down, village council addressed the issue of online interaction by approving moving recording equipment from the regular council chambers to the new, COVID-safe setup at Memorial Hall to record video and audio of the meeting to be posted later on YouTube. The council allocated up to $1,000 for this move and an upgraded lens for the camera. Recording at the regular council chambers was proven successful back in the spring shortly before COVID restrictions necessitated the move to Memorial Hall.

At the only council meeting for November, representatives from the grassroots advocacy group Harrison Hot Springs Residents Association (HHSRA) implored council to consider live Zoom meetings to ensure more access to the public while remaining COVID-safe. Resident John Allen offered to bring his own live-streaming equipment, which council declined. Village officials further stated live-streaming wouldn’t be possible with the current equipment and that the village lacked additional staffing to address technical and moderating issues necessary to effectively run a formal Zoom meeting. Officials further indicated internet speed and technology accessibility might also be an issue for some residents; in-person meetings were then considered to be among the simplest options available.

What is council voting on?

There are three parts to the recommendation put forth by village staff:

– That in-person council meetings be suspended until it is deemed safe for the public to attend

– That up to $6,000 in COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant funding be used to implement digital council meeting capabilities

– That $2,000 be allocated in the 2021 budget for additional labour costs related to technical support for public digital meetings, also funding by the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant funding.

These recommendations may be voted on by council as is or are subject to possible amendment. They may further be sent back to village staff for further analysis.

RELATED: Harrison council approves new parking fees, COVID-19 modifications

If approved, what would virtual meetings look like?

If council approves these recommendations as written, the mayor and councillors would attend meetings via Zoom on their personal devices, and the public will be welcome to attend as well via phone. Staff members would meet in person at Memorial Hall while complying with COVID-19 safety procedures; one staff member would moderate the meeting. A question period would be open to all attendees at the designated time, and all meetings would be uploaded to the village’s YouTube channel, archived for future viewing.

The next Harrison Hot Springs Council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 21 at 7 p.m., location to be determined.

In an effort to curb COVID-19 spread, those who go to public indoor spaces throughout the village will be required to wear proper protective masks and practice social distancing. If you have symptoms of a cold or of COVID-19 (fever, coughing, fatigue), please stay home.


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