After rocky start, Mayor declares first electronically held city council meeting a success

It wasn’t a perfect start to the new normal at City Hall, but Mayor Greg Dionne says he’s optimistic things will improve.

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Prince Albert’s elected municipal officials met via teleconference for a regular council meeting.

Dionne, along with Couns. Don Cody, Blake Edwards and Dennis Nowoselsky were in attendance for Monday’s meeting, while colleagues Charlene Miller, Terra Lennox-Zepp, Evert Botha, Dennis Ogrodnick, and Ted Zurakowski called in from their homes.

“I’m going to meet with the city clerk and try to do a few more improvements,” Dionne said after the meeting. “But, for a first round it wasn’t bad.”

Only three city employees were allowed inside the council chamber for the entirety of the one-and-a-half-hour meeting. That forced Prince Albert’s finance director, public works director, community services director and fire chief to view the meeting from the City Hall foyer.

Public works director Wes Hicks was allowed to enter to answer questions about the Waste Water Treatment Plant modeling and pre-design tender, but otherwise employees had limited access.

Media outlets were allowed to send only one reporter to cover the meeting, but were also forced to watch the majority of it from outside the chamber.

All attendees had to sign a waiver before entering, and were required to sit at least six feet apart from one another.

The meeting had a difficult start, as council members were often confused about whether motions brought forward by Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp had a seconder. There was further confusion after Mayor Greg Dionne called for a vote, despite the motion also not have a seconder. Both issues were eventually resolved and proper procedure was followed.

Council also had further problems with microphones cutting in and out during the meeting. Some councillors who dialed in via teleconference had to ask for written responses because they couldn’t hear the answers city employees were giving.

Despite those concerns, most city councillors were happy with the results.

“I think it went well considering the technology that was used,” Coun. Evert Botha. “There are platforms like GoToMeeting which have been around for many years … so hopefully we can find a solution where we could be a little bit more audible and also hear a little bit better, but I think for a first round, it’s something that went relatively well.”

Botha was one of the first city councillors to call for meetings to be held electronically. He was glad to see council take that step, but hopes the next meeting will run a bit smoother.

“I think we were a little bit blind on the teleconferencing system, but hopefully we can improve on that,” he said. “I’m just very relieved that we could move to meeting electronically.”

Dionne ended Monday’s meeting by asking people to “respect distancing” and leave in an orderly manner, and to avoid running “for the door at the same time.”

City council’s next meeting is scheduled for today at 4 p.m. at City Hall. The provincial government has capped all public gatherings at 10 people.

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