Council committee wrestles with Zoom etiquette

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CENTRAL MANITOULIN – The business of conducting municipal committee work, like much of the working world around the globe, has been transformed dramatically by the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the work being done at the municipal committee and council level is now conducted through digital connections, most commonly the platform Zoom. Those digital connections bring their own challenges.

One of those challenges arose during a recent roads committee meeting in which an observer allegedly interjected to the proceedings repeatedly.

The incident was brought up at the Thursday, April 8 meeting of council by Councillor Dale Scott, who had learned of the incident through conversation with another councillor.

“I understand there was a bit of turmoil,” said Councillor Scott, who noted that although he had received a “good update” from the other councillor, he found “what happened really upset me.”

“I found that Councillor Derek (Stephens) handled it quite efficiently,” said Mayor Richard Stephens, who noted that he had attended the meeting in question. “I hope that didn’t bite into the issues.”

The challenge of maintaining public access to open meetings through digital platforms is limited by the tools that are available in that program, it was noted. 

“Ruth, is it not possible for the administrator to mute the microphone?” asked Councillor Scott.

In the instance being described, it proved to not be possible to shut down the offending participant’s microphone.

CAO/clerk Ruth Frawley noted that she had researched the matter following the incident and checked with the municipality’s technical support and was unable to find a solution in the software currently being used to hold meetings.

“There are other softwares out there,” said Ms. Frawley, adding “Google Meet also might be an option.”

The question of banning participants from attending meetings did not gain any traction with the council, with Mayor Stephens noting the need for meetings to be accessible to members of the public.

The municipal staff will be exploring options to allow the chair of a municipal meeting better control of the proceedings, whether that might mean utilizing a different platform or some other option.