Original Published on Jul 08, 2022 at 08:30

By Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Grey Highlands council has barred its members from participating in multiple meetings simultaneously.

At its meeting on July 6, council unanimously passed a resolution brought forward by Deputy Mayor Aakash Desai that won’t allow council members to “simultaneously” participate in two meetings. If a councillor is found to have attended two meetings at the same time, they will not be compensated. The resolution also directed staff to make changes to the municipality’s code of conduct policy and remuneration policy to reflect the resolution.

Although it wasn’t mentioned during council’s discussion on the matter, the resolution from Desai was a response to a recent controversy at Grey County council that involved Mayor Paul McQueen, who was found to have violated the county code of conduct by virtually participating in two meetings at the same time.

Although the resolution was passed unanimously, two members of council expressed reservations about placing such a limitation on elected representatives.

Coun. Paul Allen said members of council often have meetings that conflict. He said virtual meetings are now allowed and a regular part of the council landscape, which makes it possible for a councillor to attend two meetings that have been scheduled at the same time.

“If somebody does have two meetings that conflict, they may want to prepare for both,” said Allen, who noted the technology does allow for a councillor to attend the early portion of one meeting and the later portion of another. “There could be important items they want to participate in at both meetings. There are benefits to (virtual meetings). We need to make sure we don’t abuse the benefits.”

Allen did note that he felt that the key word in the resolution was the word “simultaneously.”

Coun. Cathy Little also indicated concerns about the resolution. Little noted she recalled a situation when she was able to leave a council meeting to participate in a virtual meeting of the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority for an important closed session item.

“I did have the flexibility to do that,” said Little. “We don’t want to compromise our ability to fully engage with the organization we are representing.”

Little noted that Grey Highlands is moving away from a per diem pay system for councillors to a salary-based system and that would help alleviate concerns about multiple meeting attendance.

This item reprinted with permission from CollingwoodToday.ca, Collingwood, Ontario