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Still no public option for Strathcona Regional District meetings

Livestreaming of meetings will come eventually, says chair
Clockwise from top left are directors Andy Adams, Michele Babchuk, Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch and Director Brenda Leigh in the April 29 regional board meeting video recording. Photo courtesy Youtube.

Strathcona Regional District board and committee meetings are being recorded and posted online, albeit sometimes after more than a week-long delay.

The regional district holds meetings every two weeks on Wednesdays. The Regional Board meeting is held on every second Wednesday, and other committee meetings are held on a monthly basis. The district is required to make these meetings public, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, the public was able to attend the meetings and appear before the board of elected officials.

After an initial period where no meeting was held at the beginning of the pandemic, the district was able to hold meetings electronically with no provisions set for public participation. The board decided to make the meetings available online via recording as well as the minutes of the meetings, and has published the recordings on their Youtube channel and website.

“We have to use what is put in front of us,” said board chair Michele Babchuk. “The city already had the ability to webcast, the regional district did not. We put the Microsoft Teams into play here for us. It was an app that we had already, but had never really used it. We are trying to make use of the technology that we have in place, and currently we’ve been able to hold our meetings via Microsoft Teams, and we’re in the process of making all of those video and audio recordings available on the website.”

The April 29 meetings and April 15 meetings were all published on May 7.

“I believe that it’s about learning the technology, truthfully. We have to let our staff get up to speed and learn how to get everything loaded up,” Babchuk said. “We’re trying to get it up as fast as we can and hopefully we can improve on that.”

At the May 13 meeting, Director Noba Anderson asked if the district had any intention of incorporating public participation in the electronic meetings. Staff responded that the district is “not able to invite public participants into the meeting environment,” and added that recordings would be made available.

“Our goal is for full transparency,” Babchuk added. “I do understand Director Anderson’s request for that, but if we open it up to the public, we have to open it up to all the public. We can’t pick and choose who we open it up to.”

Microsoft Teams is a program for organizations to communicate remotely. While the program does have the capacity to hold public live events through the sharing of a unique URL, the district has not used that technology and is working on setting up their meeting room to be able to host an online meeting of that nature. Other organizations on Vancouver Island use Microsoft Teams for their live broadcast meetings, including the Nanaimo Ladysmith Public School District, which allows for a Q and A session after the meeting and posts the recording on its website and on Youtube. More information on Microsoft Teams is available here.

“Our process is to have the SRD board meeting in public, which allows the public to view what we’re doing. They don’t, unless they’re invited or ask for the ability to participate, have the ability to participate fully in those meetings, so we’re trying to find a way that the public still has the ability to contact us with any of their issues. At this point it’s very very difficult for us to allow them to come on to a Microsoft Teams meeting,” Babchuk said.

Babchuk said that the district eventually plans on live streaming all of their meetings, and using the livestream as the public record of the meeting proceedings.

The May 13 Electoral Area Services Committee meeting was posted today May 21 around 11:30 a.m. to the district’s Youtube page, at approximately the time the Mirror spoke to Babchuk.

During the meeting itself, SRD directors were given a report on the district’s financial planning and whether any updates would be required due to the pandemic. According to the minutes from that meeting, the staff report was received by the board. The minutes do not contain any record of debate or conversation at the table.

“Staff will continue to monitor the situation closely and ensure to maximize any cost-saving measures for the current year, and more in-depth financial reporting will be made available to directors as the year progresses,” the staff report says. “Staff will also seek direction regarding the goals of future financial planning to deliver on the board’s strategic priorities, including Community Well-being and Service Delivery, to support our region as it fully recovers from this extreme pandemic.”

Also at the meeting, a motion to appoint retired Sayward Mayor John MacDonald as Tlowitsis Treaty Advisory representative was defeated, with directors Cornfield, Ives, Kerr, Leigh, Moglove, Unger and Whalley all opposed to the motion. Director Ives was present at the table as acting mayor of Sayward and a replacement to MacDonald on the board.

Wildfire protection funding for Cortes Island was also approved, with director Cornfield opposing. Wood debris removal funding for Cortes and Quadra island was also approved, with directors Leigh, Whalley and Cornfield opposing.

All other items on the agenda were carried unanimously. The draft minutes are available on the district’s website here.

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