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Reason for closed Tiny council meetings: Technology

Livestreaming component of township hardware busted during CIVUD, difficult replacement part for hybrid meetings the reason for delay in re-opening to public, says staff
Tiny Township municipal office is currently located at 130 Balm Beach Rd. W. Staff Photo/MidlandToday

What was interesting was that Mayor George Cornell was ill, attending the virtual committee of the whole meeting through a remote hybrid process from his own home, when he brought up the discussion.

At the recent meeting, Tiny council heard from staff as to why the council chambers hadn’t been open to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic had changed the way municipalities handled in-person meetings.

“The technical issues are stemming from a part that we ordered,” said director of finance/treasurer Haley Leblond. “It’s a motherboard that allows the system in the council chambers to have electronic participation, as well as in-council participation, without the need for extra laptops, without the need for your headsets, people can go up and do deputations to council at the podium. This specific part is very hard to get due to COVID and its coming from China,” she added citing delivery issues.

Without disclosing the cost of the component, staff merely stated that it was expensive to replace.

A hybrid workaround was discussed, but Leblond advised that the training period for the public to use chamber equipment for deputations as an example, along with the requirement for technology like laptops and headphones, as well as the cleaning procedures between public usage also consisted of the challenge.

Cornell followed up by asking if there could be a return to the normality of pre-pandemic meetings that were live-streamed.

“My understanding of part of the challenge,” replied CAO Robert Lamb, “is the motherboard that went down on us is the part that allows it to be live-streamed.

“That is a part that, as they were doing updates and changes to our system a year ago, just stopped working.” Lamb also explained that while on back order, the company had stated the component would arrive shortly only to delay it further in a repeating manner. “At the moment we do not have the ability to live-stream other than the way we are currently doing it.”

Lamb noted that the vendor had not provided an estimated time of arrival for the ordered part, and exploration for different solutions could potentially double what was originally anticipated.

“There will be a budget implication – hopefully not one that is above the lame duck threshold that we’ll also have to take into consideration – because we did not budget for this type of technology above and beyond the repair that’s currently in the budget,” said Lamb.

Coun. Cindy Hastings asked if there was any similar equipment that could be temporarily rented in the interim, giving a small chuckle as if the response would be a similar technological deficiency. However, Leblond appeared genuinely surprised by the question and gave it some thought.

“That option, I have not explored,” admitted Leblond. “That’s a great question. I’ll certainly ask the vendor; I would have thought they would have offered that solution if there was one to be offered.”

Coun. Gibb Wishart, while sympathetic to in-person attendance, urged safety over all other aspects. His remarks prompted Deputy Mayor Walma to ask clerk Sue Walton if livestreaming could be removed from the chamber process, similar to pre-pandemic meetings.

Walton noted that the formal record of council and committees was through recorded minutes, but said she would need time to consider the policies on livestreaming; Walma pulled back stating that the trade off from livestreaming would be public access to the meetings. CAO Lamb offered to extend the conversation to the next committee of the whole to get a full update.

With the municipal term coming to a close and many committees only having roughly one meeting remaining before next month’s election, council additionally approved giving the various committees the option to return to an in-person meeting at their discretion as a gesture for those wanting to see each other face-to-face possibly for one last time.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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