The Strathcona Regional District board has given its staff the go-ahead to prepare changes to its bylaw to allow directors to participate in meetings electronically.
The concept has been debated by the board off and on for about a year now as a way to accommodate directors who run into unforeseen circumstances and can’t make it to the regional district’s Campbell River office. Directors come from as far as Cortes and Quadra islands, Zeballos, Sayward, Tahsis and Gold River.
At last week’s board meeting, directors officially endorsed the idea and directed staff to make the necessary changes to its meeting bylaw.
Area C Director Jim Abram said while he believes electronic participation has its merits, he still has some outstanding concerns.
“In the report (from regional district staff) there isn’t any mention of why a member would participate by electronic means,” Abram said. “It doesn’t say if it’s due to sickness or due to travel. Maybe they just didn’t want to come to the meeting, I don’t know.”
Dave Leitch, regional district CAO, said there is nothing in the Local Government Act that explicitly states what the reasons may be for allowing electronic participation.
“The only requirement is you can’t use it for convenience,” Leitch said. “It has to be because you can’t get to the board meeting because maybe the power’s down, roads are closed, snow, ferries aren’t going.”
Tahsis Director Jude Schooner said she wanted to see clearer guidelines of when electronic participation can and cannot be used.
“I would think to safeguard everybody that there should be some definition of what it means to not be here physically,” Schooner said. “To me, it could be a little too easy so I think it needs addressing.”
Campbell River Director Andy Adams said he was pleased to see the regional district embracing new ways.
“I think this is bringing us into the 21st century,” he said. “We’ve been doing webcasting and phone in for the city for quite some time.”
In the end, the board – with the exception of directors Abram and Gerald Whalley who were opposed – voted to have staff draft a bylaw for further consideration to amend the board’s meeting procedures.
The board is currently considering the basic level of electronic participation – phoning in using the regional district’s conference calling system.
Tom Yates, the regional district’s corporate services manager, said the cost of using the system would likely be offset by savings in director travel expenses.