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New West council meetings shuttered by COVID-19 – again

Virtual attendance still an option for council meetings and public hearings
New Westminster City Hall
New Westminster city hall is once again off limits for folks wanting to watch council meetings on a big screen in council chambers. Record/File

New Westminster city council meetings are among the gatherings impacted by recent orders issued by the provincial health office.

Dr. Bonnie Henry recently announced restrictions aimed at reducing social interactions to help bend the curve and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in B.C. The restrictions will continue until midnight on Jan. 8.

City clerk Jacque Killawee said the provincial health orders, originally announced Dec. 4, include restrictions on public attendance at council meetings, public hearings and advisory committee meetings.

“This means, effective immediately, no one is allowed to attend council meetings in city hall. Staff have made the requisite changes on the city’s public website for this order, and will no longer be providing the option to attend in person,” she told council Dec. 7. “The city will, however, continue to provide transparent access to the public through live streaming our meetings, providing public access to archived council meetings and public hearings and will allow the public to delegate to council virtually via their computer and Zoom and phone.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Westminster city council started meeting electronically on Zoom in March and did not allow the public to attend meetings in person. In October, the city allowed a maximum of 10 people into council chambers and 10 people into city hall's foyer to view council's Zoom meetings on a screen.

Because of a concern about running an event that does not comply with COVID-19 gathering events and creating a risk for the public and staff, participation at public hearings has been restricted to online or phone attendance.

“We have had only two members of the public attend council as part of open delegation at our Oct. 5 meeting,” Killawee said in an email to the Record. “We have found that people have preferred the Zoom or phone option for talking with council. To speak at our open delegation on Monday the public just need to sign up at  Sign-up opens a week before the meeting. The first 10 unique topics will have the opportunity to address council.”

Unless new meetings are scheduled, New Westminster city council will meet one more time this year – on Dec. 14. January 2021 meetings are currently scheduled for Jan. 4, 18 and 25.