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While town office re-opened to walk-in traffic, council meetings still teleconferenced

But council meetings continue to be conducted by teleconference
MVT stock sundre office

SUNDRE — While the municipal office reopened to the general public late last month, council will for the time being continue to conduct meetings by teleconference.

“We are still working on that,” said Linda Nelson, the town's chief administrative officer.

“Under the Municipal Government Act, you cannot limit the number of people who attend a council meeting. So, by continuing to have the teleconference, we can include as many people as want to participate.”

Asked whether the option to remotely join a council meeting by teleconference will indefinitely remain available even post-pandemic, Nelson said, “Our biggest problem right now is our technology.”

Some municipalities have begun broadcasting council meetings and posting video recordings online. However, that approach of course requires not only webcams but also reliable, high-speed internet.

“That’s all part of it,” she said. “We need to upgrade the technology so that we can continue having meetings in whichever way is most effective to allow the largest number of people to participate.”

Another hurdle in resuming in-person council meetings is available space, she said.

“We have a very small council chamber. So, even trying to keep staff and council in compliance with the guidelines is difficult at this time.”

Space is also fairly restricted at the front counter reception area, which while open to the public also has pandemic protocols in place.  

“We’re trying to limit the number of people in the reception area to one. So far, we really haven’t had any issues,” she said.

“There are not a whole lot of people who actually come into the municipal office.”

The doors are open to walk-in traffic during regular office hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. But people can also call in advance to schedule an appointment if they’d prefer to avoid the possibility of a lineup and waiting outside or in their vehicle.   

The barriers that were installed are comprised primarily of glass dividers mounted on the counter, while a small, swinging panel between the reception area and the office space was replaced with a complete door.    

Aside from the fact Plexiglass was in short supply and difficult to secure, the material is also prone to getting scuffed with scratches over time, prompting the decision to install glass instead.  

“We saw this as more of a longer term solution than putting something temporary in,” she said, adding the “money was better spent on something permanent rather than something temporary.”

Not being able to meet in-person at the town chamber has not impeded council’s ability to conduct the municipality’s business, she said.

“Council has still been able to do their business efficiently and effectively, just as they were prior to having the distanced meetings," she said.

Although not necessarily an ideal situation, the pandemic procedures have not created insurmountable obstacles, save for minor hiccups such as occasional disruptive feedback from a participant who hasn’t muted themselves when not speaking, or the odd interrupted connection that might require a councillor who broke up to repeat themselves.  

Overall, the municipality has been weathering the storm as well as might be hoped under the circumstances, without being forced to lay off any employees.

“We were able to keep everybody on,” she said. “I was happy about that. Because in my opinion, when you are letting somebody go, you are just transferring a financial burden onto another level of government, and everybody ends up paying that in the long run anyways.”

While Sundre likely won’t escape COVID-19’s financial crunch completely unscathed, she said the municipality has nevertheless fared well.

“We’re still in a good financial position. We’re still getting the work done, and people are still working," she said.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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