Virtual meetings are taking a toll on local governance, according to multiple mayors in the North Okanagan. (Headway photo)

Virtual meetings are taking a toll on local governance, according to multiple mayors in the North Okanagan. (Headway photo)

Virtual meetings leave North Okanagan politicians out of touch

More than a year of Zoom has led to a disconnect between officials, according to local mayors

All those missed conversations at the water cooler or in the hallways at the Regional District of North Okanagan office are beginning to add up, and it’s causing communication problems at the local government level.

Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick spoke about the adverse effects he’s noticed as a result of virtual sessions at last week’s RDNO advisory committee meeting, which like all such meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, was held over Zoom.

Garlick told the Morning Star he has no qualms with the use of virtual meetings to provide a safe environment for staff during the pandemic. In his role with the District of Coldstream, he’s been pleased with the use of plexiglass dividers between staff members, as well as cameras put in place to connect council with the public.

“It’s not the best but at least we are together, and I think that’s been beneficial,” he said.

But there are other settings where Garlick feels local governance is being hampered by virtual formats, and where adding some minor adjustments to in-person meetings would suffice to provide a safe environment.

“At the regional district, by contrast, we have been working virtually and so we have the agendas, we deal with each of the items and we are offered opportunities to ask questions,” Garlick said. “But it’s more stilted, because it’s your time to speak and then you’re off. It’s very different.”

“And then at the end of the meeting everybody walks away and you don’t see anyone or have a chance to talk.”

These missed side-chats can appear insignificant on their own, but now that they have accumulated over the course of a year or so, governing bodies are now running a large deficit in this sort of communication.

“It’s a small item each time but it builds up, it starts to become obvious just in what’s happening, what’s being carried out.”

Garlick says the issue is evident when he looks at the list of major projects the RDNO has lined up.

“There’s holes in what we know about it and what’s happening,” he said.

At the April 14 advisory committee meeting, Garlick proposed a motion to look at returning to in-person meetings with virtual access, which passed unanimously.

“We need to look at where it’s appropriate,” he said. “I’m not dissing Zoom, it’s great that we have it, but we also need to look at the benefits of the in-person meetings and see what we have been neglecting or missing out on.”

Garlick isn’t alone. On Friday (April 16) Enderby Mayor Greg McCune said he and his council have had similar experiences.

“Zooms have lost their lustre. It’s not as smooth as it once was.”

Under the current provincial health order on gatherings and events, municipal meetings are to be held virtually “as much as possible.”

But with an RDNO cohort of just seven members, Garlick says it wouldn’t be too difficult to space out six members in a room, with the virtual format already set up to accommodate the extra person and other staff members as needed.

“And the province has provided us with money to do these things (through) the COVID grants,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate that we do that, not only for including the public but just for being able to carry on business in a better manner.”

READ MORE: ‘Can’t afford to lose another summer’: B.C. tourism group supports COVID travel rules

READ MORE: B.C. to table budget that’s expected to deal with COVID-19 pandemic and beyond


Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
Follow us: Facebook | Twitter

CoronavirusMunicipal Government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP did not commit offense in arrest which seriously injured Lake Country man, finds IIO. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
Vernon police didn’t use excessive force in domestic takedown: Watchdog

‘One stepped on him and one had his knee in his neck,’ woman told IIO

A fifth wheel fire came dangerously close to a Lake Country home Wednesday afternoon. (Lake Country Fire Department photo)
RCMP, neighbours save Lake Country house from fire

Fifth wheel up in flames next to home

École Kelowna Senior Secondary School had COVID-19 exposures on May 5, according to Interior Health. (Contributed)
COVID-19 exposures confirmed at Kelowna high school

The Central Okanagan School District didn’t specify how many cases there were

(Pixabay photo)
Morning Start: Kentucky has more bourbon than people

Your morning start for Thursday, May 6, 2021

An aerial rendering of the new intersection at Vernon’s 39th Avenue, featuring a double roundabout. The city announced the completion of the north-south transportation corridor Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Contributed)
New north-south transportation corridor completed in Vernon

Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians now have a new way to get across town

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

B.C. average home price and sales level to 2023, showing steep drop in sales expected next year. (Central 1)
Forecast calls for B.C. home sales to ‘explode,’ then drop off

Average price to rise another 10% in 2021, credit unions say

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Salmon Arm Silverbacks forward Sullivan Mack gets a boost into West Kelowna goalie Johnny Derrick from Warriors forward Tyson Jugnauth during West Kelowna’s 5-4 B.C. Hockey League pod play win Wednesday, May 5, at Vernon’s Kal Tire Place. (Tami Quan Photography)
West Kelowna Warriors hold on to edge Silverbacks

Warriors up three with five minutes to go, give up two late goals but end up with 5-4 BCHL win over Salmon Arm

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Members of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. (File photo)
B.C.-wide #DayOfMusic to feature 100-plus free virtual concerts May 15

‘Our colleagues across the province have figured out new ways to perform and connect,’ VSO boss says

Two passengers were recently fined thousands of dollars after they faked their pre-flight COVID-19 test results. (Paul Clarke/Black Press)
2 passengers in Canada fined thousands for faking pre-flight COVID-19 tests

The government issued a warning Thursday to others thinking of doing the same – do it and you’ll be ordered to pay

(File)
With revenge porn on the rise in 2021, B.C. seeks feedback for new legislation

New legislation could help victims take down images and receive compensation

(Kamloops This Week file photo)
Federal police unit takes over probe of B.C. regional district’s spending

Financial Integrity Sensitive Investigations Unit is now reviewing the case

Most Read