Wellington North council has authorized staff to purchase a piece of equipment that will allow it to conduct hybrid meetings with some councillors in the chambers and some joining via Zoom.
The total cost of the project, including the new hardware and integration with the chamber’s existing audiovisual system is estimated at $6,116. It will be funded through provincial COVID-19 relief money.
Although Wellington North is preparing to host hybrid meetings, township chief administrative officer (CAO) Michael Givens said he doesn’t anticipate starting to use the new format until December or January “at the earliest.”
While some other Wellington County municipalities, including Minto, Mapleton and Guelph-Eramosa, are planning a return to in-person meetings in September, Givens said because of the size of Wellington North’s council chamber and how well virtual meetings have gone, he doesn’t plan on “pushing the envelope to get us back in the council chamber quickly.”
Until then, the plan is to continue with the fully virtual model council has been using since March of 2020 where everyone appears on Zoom.
Some councillors pondered whether it made sense to buy the new equipment now, given there is still so much uncertainty about how the pandemic will progress. But Givens said even once all councillors can gather in the same room again, the hybrid system will still be advantageous.
He explained it gives planners, consultants and other staff the ability to participate in meetings without being physically present. Allowing people with accessibility issues to continue to be able to participate electronically also “makes a lot of sense going forward,” he said.
“I know we all want to get back to a certain degree, I get that,” said Givens. “But I think the hybrid model is something that we envision happening in perpetuity going forward, because it is advantageous in a lot of ways.”