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

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Grizzly bear. (File)
Malakwa man bitten by grizzly bear on dog walk

The man and dogs were not seriously injured

The downtown kiosks were recently painted black. Tourism Revelstoke said decals still need to be added and information inside the kiosks will also be updated. The city said the black paint is temporary as the area is slotted to be completely revamped in the coming years. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
Newly painted black Revelstoke kiosks temporary fix; city

The recent colour changed caused an uproar on Facebook

A hummingbird gives its wings a rare rest while feeding in a North Okanagan garden. (Karen Siemens/North Okanagan Naturalists Club)
Hummingbirds back for another Okanagan season

North America’s littlest birds return, and they’re hungry

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

(Kingfisher Boats photo)
In the market for a boat in the North Okanagan? Be prepared to wait

Vernon’s Kingfisher Boats is out of 2021 models, with many 2022 models already pre-sold

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

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read