Politicians from Kamloops to Ottawa have been put to the technological test in moving institutional systems online.
Just as they get their working-from-home backgrounds established and work out microphone kinks, city officials will turn the camera back around to the public as public hearings move online.
On June 2, the city will host its first public hearing in the COVID-19 era, including dial-in and digital participation from the public. A provincial order permits municipalities to host public hearings without the public present in the flesh, a marked departure from the traditional democratic function synonymous with local government: the controversial development, the angry neighbour and issues of parking.
City of Kamloops CAO David Trawin said the city will run public hearings the same way it has run council meetings, at least to start. About half of city council will be in council chambers at city hall, with the other half participating by video.
On public hearing notices, through newspaper advertisements and via signage on the properties, the city will notify the public of a phone number they can call to make their opinions on the subject at hand known and ask questions.
“Let’s say I am resident Smith. I’m the next door neighbour. I want to listen into the public hearing. We’ll broadcast. It’ll be a Zoom meeting. There will be notice. You’ll get a connection to do that. You connect in and if you want to put a question up there, you can type in, basically, ‘Mr. Smith, 352 Whatever Avenue, I have a question,’ Trawin said.
“That’ll queue up and, basically, the mayor will run the queue.”
Trawin said residents will not need to have their questions ready in advance of the hearing, but can present them as they arise amid presentations.
Trawin said the city may adapt the process into a larger room going forward, where council can be in one place and certain numbers of residents may attend in person. Though the city has traditionally utilized the Valley First lounge at Sandman Centre for public hearings that draw large crowds, that space is currently unavailable as it is occupied by emergency operations staff preparing to combat floods and fires.
On Tuesday, council sent two projects to public hearing: rezoning of property on Fernie Road in the Guerin Creek/West End area, which would pave way for townhouses to be built, and rezoning of residential property on Elston Drive in Westsyde, which would allow for construction of a single-family residential subdivision.