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

Just Posted

Armstrong Regional Co-op board members Brett Kirkpatrick (left) and Robbie Hoyte (right) flank Scott John of the Okanagan Screen Arts Society. The co-op donated $2,500 to the society for its Save the Towne Theatre campaign. (ARC photo)
North Okanagan-Shuswap cooperative contributes to Vernon theatre campaign

Armstrong Regional Co-op kicks in $2,500 for Okanagan Screen Arts Society’s Save the Towne Theatre campaign

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery, scholarship for rescue at Sicamous beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

A young Sicamous Canada Day parade-goer is awed by a colourful float filled with beloved Disney characters during the July 1, 2020 community event. (File photo)
Editorial: Now is the time for Sicamous to shine

Shuswap community might be just what people who work from home are looking for

Greyhound Canada announced May 13 it was closing operations permanently after more than a century of operation. (Black Press file photo)
COLUMN: Goodbye to a never forgotten friend

Greyhound bus trips played a big role in columnist’s life

Someone or something is vandalizing birdhouses built and erected along Salmon Arm’s Foreshore Trail, much to the chagrin of a Shuswap biologist who looks after the houses. All but one of 32 along the trail are occupied. (Facebook photo)
Ongoing birdhouse vandalism rocks Shuswap trail, groups

Eight more boxes were destroyed Saturday, May 15

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Coldstream Fire Department is on-scene Sunday, May 16, battling a fire in a Matner Lane orchard just up the hill from the firehall on Aberdeen Road. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Okanagan fire crew tackles orchard blaze

Fire broke out just before 2 p.m. on Matner Lane, which is just up the hill from the Coldstream firehall on Aberdeen Road

A drug bust on Government Street in Duncan on Tuesday, March 30, led to a "substantial seizure" according to the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP. (File photo)
Search continues for diver who went missing in Okanagan Lake

Emergency crews continue to search for the 52-year-old who didn’t resurface Saturday

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

A man and woman, both 33 and from Kelowna, were arrested on Postill Lake Forest Service Road in possession of two stolen vehicles Friday, May 14, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna duo arrested with stolen vehicles after ‘brief’ bicycle getaway attempt

A man and a woman were arrested on a forest service road on numerous pending charges

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Lynda Saundry, born 1961, is charged with the murder of North Okanagan resident Barry Jones in July 2020. Saundry will appear in Vernon court May 17, 2021, to fix a date for a preliminary inquiry. (Facebook public photo)
North Okanagan murder suspect to be tried by judge and jury

Lynda Saundry is charged with the first-degree murder of Barry Jones in July 2020

Most Read