Hay River town council won’t be holding meetings in person until sometime in August, at the earliest.

Like many organizations, council has been gathering online since mid-March because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And we really don’t see any necessity for that to change. And it won’t right now, unless council has some specific reason to meet in person.

Online meetings seem to be working quite well as far as we can tell watching them on our computer. Issues get discussed and motions get passed. Council can even have in-camera sessions in cyberspace.

And of course, the risk of transmitting the cornonavirus is zero during an online meeting, which is the most important thing of all.

So why is there any discussion at all about switching back to in-person meetings?

Well, some people apparently prefer them. A delegation from the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority was to present its annual report earlier this month during an online meeting of council, but delayed it to July 28 because it was believed that in-person meetings might resume on that date. That won’t be happening.

We see no problems – only benefits – with online meetings, and that’s aside from the safety aspect.

For one thing, the time committed to the meetings is shortened. Council members and town staff don’t have to get ready and head to town hall. They just get on their computers at the appropriate time and away they go.
It would also save time for members of the public, but that would only be true for some meetings. In most cases, no one from the public attends in-person meetings. It’s only when there is a controversial issue before council or a delegation making a presentation that there is anyone besides The Hub reporter in the public gallery.

And besides, even if council returned to in-person meetings, members of the public would not be allowed to attend, at least until the pandemic is over.

Online meetings are also a lot less complicated in this time of Covid-19.

For in-person meetings, there would still have to be social distancing for council members and town staff. And there is even no certainty that all staff members would be able to attend given the space limitations. There was just one socially-distanced meeting of council on March 16 before the switch to online meetings on March 30, and council members and town employees were spread around the room.

In-person meetings of council seem to be a lot of bother with very little gain for the effort when there is a perfectly logical and functioning alternative.

For those people who would prefer meeting in person, we would respectfully suggest they get used to online gatherings.

It is the way of the present, but it may also be the way of the future for an undetermined length of time if the coronavirus has its way.

By the time the coronavirus threat lessens or disappears, town council may be so used to online meetings that it may not want to go back to the old way of doing community business.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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