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Grey County council holds first electronic meeting; others to do the same

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While there were some technical hiccups, Grey County council held its first electronic meeting Tuesday with all 18 members participating from their homes.

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Council discussed and approved only one item during the brief session – an amendment to the county’s procedural bylaw to permit electronic council and committee meeting during declared county or provincial emergencies.

Grey County Warden Paul McQueen said he thinks the first digital meeting went well overall.

“We have 18 representatives around the virtual horseshoe you could call it and I think there was just a few glitches, but I think we got it all figured out and that will set us up well for our first council meeting scheduled for April 9,” he said in an interview.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a provincial state of emergency March 17 in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At an emergency sitting of the Ontario legislature two days later, MPPs approved the Municipal Emergencies Act which permits municipalities to fully conduct council, committee and local board meetings electronically when faced with local and province-wide emergencies.

Grey County declared its own state of emergency March 26 and, on March 28, the province issued an emergency order to prohibit organized public events of more than five people.

Tuesday’s virtual Grey County council meeting began just after 9:30 a.m. and was live-streamed on the county’s website. A video of the meeting is to be posted on the county’s YouTube channel.

Most of the technical issues during the meeting related to audio. There was an echo at times when some people spoke and there was no audio at other points during the live stream.

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Grey County officials say council will meet digitally for the duration of the COVID-19 state of emergency. During this period, McQueen said council will deal only with critical matters at the electronic meetings.

“There’s certain tenders that we have to approve. And one of the things that has to come up is we need to decide on our tax ratios, which will allow them to be set for the lower tiers as well. That will be an important part of our business that has to be dealt with,” he said.

Nearly all municipal councils in Grey-Bruce have already held or are planning to soon hold their first digital meetings since the pandemic was declared.

Owen Sound council met March 25 – the majority of members participated from their homes – and amended the city’s procedural bylaw to allow for virtual meetings during states of emergency. The city is planning to resume its regular meeting schedule April 6 at 7 p.m. Most councillors will be participating electronically, the city says, and the agenda will be limited to time-sensitive and essential items.

The council meetings can be watched live on Rogers TV or the Rogers TV website or viewed the next day on the city’s YouTube channel.

Anyone who wants to ask a question during council’s public question period is being asked to email city clerk Briana Bloomfield by noon on the day of the meeting. Questions will be read by the clerk.

Also in Grey County, Georgian Bluffs, West Grey and Southgate councils are scheduled to meet electronically on Wednesday to discuss amending their municipality’s procedural bylaws to permit electronic meetings during the emergency. Meaford and Hanover councils are planning to hold similar votes Thursday.

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Chatsworth, Grey Highlands and The Blue Mountains councils have already met electronically to amend the procedural bylaws in their municipalities to allow for the virtual meetings.

Meanwhile, Bruce County council is set to hold its first electronic meeting Thursday, starting at 9:30 a.m. All meetings will be live-streamed on the county’s website and a video of the meeting will be posted to the website later.

Also in Bruce, both South Bruce Peninsula and South Bruce councils met Friday, while Northern Bruce Peninsula, Saugeen Shores and Kincardine councils met Monday to pass bylaws to allow for electronic meetings during states of emergency.

Arran-Elderslie council has already approved amending its procedural bylaw to allow electronic meetings during an emergency, while Brockton council is planning to meet via Zoom April 7 to establish electronic meeting procedures and amend the procedural bylaw and Huron-Kinloss council is set to discuss a similar bylaw amendment at its meeting April 15.

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