By Stan Ashbee
A “Question of the Week” is posed each week on the front page of The Taber Times, which asks readers for a “yes” or “no” response through an online post on its website. In the Feb. 3 issue, the question was asked, “Should elected officials be allowed to attend meetings remotely for long periods of time?” This question was chosen, as throughout the province and country elected officials (federal, provincial and municipal) have been reprimanded for leaving the country during a pandemic.
At a Feb. 8 meeting, The Taber Times asked the Town of Taber council their thoughts about the question posed in the newspaper and if there were policies in place in regards to councillors attending meetings remotely for a long period of time and/or any repercussions for councillors if they abuse this practice.
Coun. Joe Strojwas attended the meeting remotely.
Meghan Brennan, the town’s communications and projects co-ordinator, related the questions submitted by The Taber Times to council for a response.
Coun. Jack Brewin said the poll in The Taber Times “has no value.” “Anyone in the world can vote on that poll. I don’t think we can comment on that.”
Coun. Louie Tams said he agreed with Coun. Brewin, but also wanted to add, “We have, due to COVID-19 and a number of other issues that have gone on, we have done our best — but, we’ve allowed and it was in council’s thing to have councillors attend by Zoom, by phone or by electronics. In the world we live in today, attending a meeting electronically also means you are there at the meeting. I don’t think it’s a bad thing we allow remote access to our council meetings for our councillors.”
Coun. Strojwas said the federal government allows elected officials to attend cabinet meetings by Zoom and they’ve been doing it for almost a year now. “I don’t really see the relevance of this question.”
Mayor Andrew Prokop said he agreed with Coun. Strojwas.
“I believe we have this in policy, also. To allow for this or the Municipal Government Act was checked into some time back that any electronic attendance is completely allowable and totally within any councillor’s right to do so.”
Brennan noted the applicable legislation to the policies question is Section 199(2) of the MGA and Section 6.12 of the Council Procedural Bylaw: http://www.taber.ca/home/showdocument?id=1114.
“Southern Albertans realize, with the pandemic, it was often encouraged to attend meetings virtually from home. Of course, with the pandemic, it has also been encouraged for elected officials to be in the community and not abroad. Both federally and provincially, elected officials have been disciplined for travelling abroad during a pandemic when all governments (local, provincial and federal) have asked Canadians to stay home and not travel. Employees of municipalities and governments have also come under fire, as of late for this, as well,” it was stated in an e-mail letter submitted to council for consideration.
Another question asked during the meeting from The Taber Times was, “Would each councillor be able to acknowledge if they have attended council meetings while in the Taber area, or were they/have they been out of the country during the pandemic when attending meetings remotely?”
“Council, any objection to anybody answering that question,” Mayor Prokop asked councillors.
Coun. Strojwas noted he doesn’t see the relevance of the question. “If you are in town attending a council meeting remotely does it matter where you are?”
Mayor Prokop said again, “that is covered under the MGA.”
“We’re totally within our right to do so. No, I don’t know if that’s a completely appropriate question.”
Coun. Garth Bekkering said whether the question is relevant or not, “it is right to be asked, I guess. For myself, I will not comment.”
Mayor Prokop added anyone can check back on any live streaming videos to see if members are in attendance either in-person or remotely/electronically. “I think we’ll leave it at that.”