Return to in-person meetings discussed at first City Council meeting since election

  • Council   Friday, December 9, 2022   

Stratford City Hall will look for an alternative meeting site if the city hall elevator is not fixed by the end of January 2023. 

Stratford City Council met over Zoom on November 28 for the first time since the 2022 Municipal Election. Council discussed a staff recommendation to continue virtual council, committee, and sub-committee meetings until the city hall’s elevator is fixed. The majority of council voted in favour of re-visiting the in-person meeting options if the elevator is not fixed by late January 2023. 

The management report in the agenda presented two options, either continue meetings on Zoom and upload them to the city’s YouTube page and website the next day or hold in-person committee and council meetings at the Stratford Rotary Complex, with sub-committee meetings continuing on Zoom, starting January 2023 until the elevator is fixed. The report suggested continuing virtual meetings until the elevator is fixed. 

Zoom is accounted for in the 2023 City Budget at $2,800 for three licenses. If council were to hold in-person meetings at the Rotary Complex, the city would lose about $775 each weekday and $1,010 each weekend day in revenue because the Rotary Complex halls could not be rented out.

Stratford’s council, committee, and sub-committee meetings became virtual to follow COVID-19 protocol. Meetings remained virtual due to the elevator flooding in January 2022.

Councillor Bonnie Henderson noted that some people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend meetings were able to do so because of Zoom. She would like to continue virtual meetings until the elevator is fixed, rather than using the Rotary Complex temporarily.

"There's a lot of work that's involved in having staff move all of their stuff every time we have a meeting, say to the Rotary Complex, and then we can't rent that room out.” Henderson said. 

She added that she only heard two people who dislike the virtual meetings, while everyone else seems to enjoy them. 

“They think it's great. They can go back and watch it at any time and they can see us.”

Councillor Jo-Dee Burbach put forward an amendment to have the city clerk prepare information for off-site meeting options if the elevator is not fixed by the end of January 2023.

"I agree both with doing the virtual meetings but also wanting to get back to in-person,” Burbach said. “I think it's great for the public but I also think it would be very good for council to be in the room together. I think it's really important that we don't see each other as talking heads but are actually available to interact."

Councillor Brad Beatty said that while he understands the desire to return to in-person meetings, he wasn’t sure if a deadline was the best course of action.

"As we all know, time and material, it's tough to get these things done. I don't know if putting a deadline of January is going to make it any better,” Beatty said. “The job is going to get done as quickly as it can.” 

Councillor Mark Hunter suggested a permanent alternative venue for in-person meetings. 

"I agree that the cost proposed for these meetings is quite pricey, but there's a value in meeting in person. As the delegation pointed out some of the things you don’t get on Zoom meetings that you get at in-person meetings,” Hunter said. “I do have concern, going forward, about an old building that has a single elevator for access and if we’re dependent on that elevator always working to be able to hold in-person meetings, I just think it would be nice to have an alternative.” 

Councillor Lesley Beihn asked if a hybrid option was possible, but city clerk Tatiana Dafoe explained that because the elevator is out of operation, it is not accessible to people with disabilities. However, a hybrid option could be explored when in-person meetings return. 

The amendment to revisit in-person meeting options if the elevator is not repaired by late January 2023 passed 10-1, with Beatty opposing. 

The next regular council meeting is scheduled for December 12, 2022.