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New West: Restarting civic services can’t be rushed

Council wants discussion on vision for post-COVID work
The City of New Westminster is planning on it can welcome community members back to all of its facilities and programs - safely. Theresa McManus

The City of New Westminster’s plans to reopen facilities and resume programming impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is a work in progress.

The provincial government recently released BC’s Restart, a four-phased plan that outlines how and when services will begin to reopen in B.C. The various phases of the plan are contingent on declining COVID-19 case counts, increasing vaccination rates in people aged 18 and older, and declining hospitalization and mortality rates from COVID-19.

In a June 7 report to council, the new normal staff committee says staff are working to understand what the provincial guidelines mean for local government and how the city can proceed, with the health and safety of the community and city staff being the Number 1 priority.

“While all city facilities are currently open, most with modified offerings, we must do our due diligence and ensure that restarting full city programs and services is carefully considered and not rushed,” said the report.

The report states that COVID-19 safety pans are required throughout the restart process and must be updated as the restart plan unfolds.

“Restarting the city is not a matter of simply scheduling staff and restarting full operations,” said the report. “Different sectors, including local government, must continue to meet provincial guidelines for safe practices through their safety plan.”

Development services, electrical operations, engineering services and engineering operations, human resources, library services, offices of the chief administrative officers, parks and recreation, fire and rescue services, and financial services departments have developed plans on how to respond to the province’s restart plan. Work being undertaken by the city will consider everything from when various facilities will reopen, when in-person council meetings and public engagement will resume, and when employees who have been working remotely will return to the workplace.

As the city starts to think about moving out of COVID-19, Mayor Jonathan Cote said he’d like the city’s “new normal committee” to engage council in a discussion about how the civic organization is going to work after the pandemic.

“I think this is a really important topic,” he said. “I don’t think we are here to come to that conclusion today but I think every organization, whether it is a local government or any organization, are all having these conversations and I think it is an important one to have. I just would hope that council can be engaged and included in that.”

Cote said this would include  considering if there should be more flexibility for working from home and if there are activities that can be done more appropriately or better electronically.

“I think we can all recognize there have been some deficiencies and we have lost things, whether that is relationships-building or just some of the things that in-person meetings bring to us,” he said. “But I also want us to give some thought as to what we have potentially gained or learned or could potentially be able to do differently.”

Coun. Mary Trentadue said she’d like to have a discussion about some of the things the city may have discovered during COVID that made work better or worse for people.

“I especially want to talk about the flexibility of people being able to work from home,” she said. “I have always supported that, and it would be really interesting to see how that impacts staff and city hall and our ability to grow as an organization.”

Trentadue said she’d also like the city to reach out to its committees to find out what’s worked and hasn’t worked for members in terms of online meetings.

“I think that is something that we need to know,” she said. “I really welcome this conversation going forward and I look forward to further reports so that we can really dig into the good and bad of COVID.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said some departments have found creative ways of alternating working from home and at the office, but he’d like to have a broader look at the impact the pandemic has had on civic employees.

“I’d like an overall sort of breakdown of auxiliaries, full-time versus part-time, since COVID began. I’d like to know the impacts,” he said. “I don’t need to know it right now, but I’d like that to come back to us and give us an example of the financial impact that this has had – I know it has to some employees but I’d like to know the depth of the impacts that COVID has had on our civic employees.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus