A new outbreak means a new approach for Flin Flon’s city council, relying on technology to keep meeting as scheduled despite the COVID-19 outbreak.
Instead of meeting face to face at the table in City Hall’s council chambers March 17, the five members of city council, Mayor Cal Huntley and chief administrative officer Glenna Daschuk met via a web conference through the program Zoom. Each member of the meeting reported from home, using a camera - often from a tablet, phone or laptop - to appear remotely.
It was the first time a council meeting for the City’s highest officials had been held remotely in such a way. On occasion, members who were out of town had dialed in via phone or appeared via video chat to be present for a meeting, but never more than one at a time and never the entire council at once. Years ago, council passed a bylaw allowing councillors to meet remotely in case of emergencies.
Three members of council - Mayor Huntley and councillors Arnold and Babcock - were self-isolating due to recent travel, while MacKinnon tuned in during a trip to her native Cape Breton. McKee and Pawlachuk followed suit, reporting in from home.
“I’m voluntarily isolated until [March 21]. That gives me my 14 days,” Huntley said.
Other members of council used their comment time to issue advice on the COVID-19 threat.
“I want to tell people to stay home and I wish them all safety, along with their families and anyone else who’s travelling,” McKee said.
“We’re dealing with some difficult times, certainly. It’s worldwide now. We’re trying to handle things as best we can from a community point of view,” said Huntley.
The remote meeting is part of a number of measures taken by the City to curtail any risk of COVID-19 infection. Days before the meeting, the City had chosen to close all publicly operated facilities - the Flin Flon Community Hall, the Whitney Forum, the Flin Flon Curling Club and City Hall itself - for precautionary reasons.
The mayor said there had been some negative response to the closures, but residents understood the reasons behind the move.
“People understand it. The only comment I’ve heard, and they understand it but they’re not happy about it, is not being able to walk at the Whitney Forum,” he said.
Huntley said one of his biggest concerns was the amount of Flin Flonners and area residents either travelling out of Canada or wintering in the United States or Mexico who had not returned.
“My biggest concern right now is I think we all have friends and family that are not home yet. That’s going to be a concern,” he said, adding people needed to take the disease seriously.
“Take the recommendations seriously. Do not be facetious about it. I know initially, there were some comments and it was probably not as seriously taken as it should have been. We’re not going to make that mistake going forward. We’re erring on the side of caution.”
The new technology used at the meeting did mean an occasional hiccup or two - Pawlachuk was unable to open his approved measures from committee at home, leading other council members able to access the council package to read his measures to the meeting.
Holding remote meetings will be an option for councillors going forward, pending the effect of the outbreak.
“It worked quite well, considering what we were dealing with,” Daschuk said following the meeting.
Daschuk said the closures have impacted City staff, but have not led to any major changes in hours or layoffs aside from staff at the recently closed Flin Flon Aqua Centre.
“We’ve dealt with the ones we need to deal with. There have been no layoffs at this point. Because we’ve gotten the public out of our public places, the employees are still working. They’re honouring the two metre distancing.”
The meeting itself was short. Council passed a number of resolutions regarding the recent City budget, including bylaws to confirm the 2020 mill rate, business assessments and taxes, collection of fees in lieu of taxes and allowing the City to raise money for the equipment replacement reserve fund and the general reserve fund through a special tax. The plan for the budget itself also received a second reading, then a third and final reading.
One city councillor used his comment time to mention recent issues with fan behaviour at the Whitney Forum
Pawlachuk mentioned and applauded a recent column in The Reminder condemning the activity of a small number of Flin Flon Bomber fans during the team’s first round playoff series with Humboldt.
“It was really unbelievable what went on there and I think, as the city of Flin Flon, that doesn’t represent us, what went on at the Humboldt game,” he said.
“It was pretty eye-opening for me. That’s not Flin Flon. These fans paid for hotels here, they pay for gas, for meals and I think we have to treat anybody who comes to Flin Flon with more respect than that.”