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Procedure bylaw changes stall at meeting

Only two directors are allowed to participate in meetings electronically

by Laura Walz After three months of intense debate, Powell River Regional District directors landed back where they began, with the original board procedure bylaw.

Adopted in November 2010, the bylaw permits only directors from Texada and Lasqueti islands, or their alternates, to participate in meetings electronically. The only exception is when a director is unable to attend a meeting because of weather conditions or lack of transportation.

The latest round of debate began in September 2011. Chris McNaughton, a City of Powell River director on the regional board, raised some concerns he had with the bylaw after he was unable to call into a committee-of-the-whole meeting when he was out of town and his alternate was not available.

Mac Fraser, regional district chief administrative officer, was directed to receive comments from directors by the end of the month on any desired changes to the bylaw. At the October committee meeting, Fraser reported on his findings and recommended changing the clause addressing electronic participation to allow a director and his or her alternate to participate electronically only if they are within the regional district or away on regional district business.

After debating the issue, directors voted four-to-three to amend the clause to allow all directors and their alternates to participate electronically.

When the amended bylaw came to the October board meeting, Patrick Brabazon, Electoral Area A director, made a motion to send it back to the committee-of-the-whole. Again by a four-to-three vote, back it went, to the November 17 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

McNaughton said he didn’t think it was appropriate for a rural director to be given a privilege that everybody on the board doesn’t have. “This is about doing the business of government, not just playing silly bugger here,” he said. “If I’m in Mexico and I want to call in because I want to exercise my civic responsibility, then I should have that entitlement.”

Colin Palmer, board chair and Electoral Area C director, told McNaughton “that’s where I get wound up.” He said when he goes on holiday, he instructs staff to contact him only if there is a forest fire or an earthquake. “If someone is on holiday, sitting in Mexico, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve gone,” he said.

When the vote was taken, a majority favoured going back to the recommended amendment, which was to allow electronic participation only when a director is in the regional district or away on regional district business. The main reason is that regional district directors have alternates, who attend when a director is not available.

The amended bylaw was on the agenda for the November 24 board meeting, a day when a “weather bomb” hit the West Coast, bringing high winds, torrential rain and ferry cancellations. Ironically, both Dave Murphy, Texada Island director, and Merrick Anderson, Lasqueti Island director, phoned into the board meeting. City Councillor Aaron Pinch attended as the alternate for Debbie Dee, city director.

Stan Gisborne, Electoral Area B director, said he was voting against the bylaw amendment. “Occasionally both myself and my alternate leave town on old car tours,” he said. “Area B won’t be represented if I can’t participate electronically.”

Pinch said there are times when a director and their alternate may be unavailable, for legitimate and excusable reasons. He also noted that there’s a chance voting over the Internet would be approved for the next civic election, three years from now. “I think the only ones that we’re hurting are the citizens that we’re representing,” he said.

Murphy said it was not up to the regional district board to accommodate the city.

Anderson said he was in favour of facilitating electronic communication, “as I avail myself of it frequently. It would be hypocritical to take any other stand.”

Palmer had to call the vote twice, because of confusion over how Anderson voted. In the end, Murphy, Brabazon and Palmer voted in favour of the amended bylaw, while Anderson, Gisborne, Pinch and McNaughton voted in opposition.

Palmer said the question of what to do with the procedure bylaw will be on the agenda for the next committee-of-the-whole meeting.

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