A motion to allow occasional electronic attendance of city council meetings was passed during the Monday February 13th meeting of Cornwall City Council by a vote of seven to three.
Proposed by councilor Sabourin and seconded by councilor McIntosh, the resolution requests that the City of Cornwall change the current procedural by-law which does not allow for electronic participation.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, electronic meetings became the norm. Electronic participation is allowed by the Ontario Municipal Act and with advancements in technology some councilors feel it is time to introduce electronic attendance as an option when they cannot attend.
“I think it’s a motion of accommodation. At the same time, it’s a step towards modernization,” said councilor Sabourin.
Ultimately councilors Hébert, Bennett, and Hollingsworth were opposed while the rest of city council voted in favor of the motion.
Councilor Hollingsworth voiced his concerns with technology after a presentation from the Cornwall Fire Services was postponed due to technical difficulties. He also stated that he believes attending in-person is part of the job.
“The motion says, ‘on occasion’,” said Hollingsworth, “Well, how many times is on occasion? How many times does a councilor get to say, ‘Well, I’m not going to come tonight I’ll just go online.’?”
Councilor Hébert expressed concern that allowing electronic attendance when you ‘cannot’ make a council meeting would create pressure for councilors who are ill or on vacation to attend anyway.
“Missing a council meeting is not a decision I ever took lightly,” shared Mayor Towndale, who had missed the last meeting to be at the ROMA conference in Toronto, “If there are opportunities to increase participation of councilors who can’t be here for reasons like health or they are away at conferences doing city business, I think there is some value in that.”
An amendment proposed by councilor will bring further debate to the issue later, including what situations would warrant electronic participation.