Strathcona Regional District debating allowing its directors to participate in meetings electronically

Directors say geography of regional district can be an impediment to director attendance

The Strathcona Regional District is considering allowing elected directors to participate in board meetings electronically.

Regional district staff were quick to clarify, however, that directors would not be permitted to do so for simply the sake of convenience.

Tom Yates, the regional district’s corporate services manager, said the Local Government Act stipulates that directors may use electronic means, such as Skype, only if they’re unable to attend a meeting in person.

“It is worth noting that the statute requires that directors who wish to participate electronically in a regular meeting must be unable to attend in person,” Yates said.

“There is no provision in this case to allow electronic participation simply because it may be more convenient for a director.”

Zeballos Director Julie Colborne, who has been an advocate for electronic participation, said her intent with moving the initiative along was to establish a provision for directors coming from rural jurisdictions to still participate in meetings if they don’t have the physical means to get there due to inclement weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

Directors travel from Sayward, Zeballos, Tahsis, Cortes Island, Oyster River, Quadra Island and Gold River to attend meetings at the regional district offices in Campbell River.

“I don’t think it was ever anyone’s intention here for it to just be for convenience,” Colborne said. “I hope an opportunity comes out of this to change our procedural bylaw.”

While the Local Government Act does permit electronic participation, Yates said the regional district board may need to amend its meeting procedure bylaw.

“If the board determines that electronic participation by directors should be further investigated, there are a number of related matters that the board may wish to consider including quorum confirmation methods, voting procedures, attendance by staff, access to agenda materials and cost,” Yates said.

Area A Director Gerald Whalley said while he didn’t mind staff taking a look, he reminded the board that each director does have an alternate in the event a director can’t make it to a meeting.

“In theory I don’t have any problem with it, although generally speaking, that’s what alternates are for,” Whalley said, adding he would only consider proceeding with electronic participation if the benefits outweigh the costs.

He also questioned whether it would work in all electoral areas, as not all areas within the Strathcona Regional District have broadband.

Colborne said she would like a report back from regional district staff as to the “monetary value” of electronic participation and whether there would be any accessibility implications.

She also pointed out instances where alternates may not be able to fill in.

“My alternate is in Zeballos, too so if I can’t get out, he can’t get out,” Colborne said.

In the end, the board agreed to have staff report back on the technological requirements, associated cost and availability of broadband in rural areas for regular and special board meetings.