Original Published on Jun 22, 2022 at 06:24

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

ST. MARY’S—For the first time, the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s will host its regular meetings outside the administrative seat of Sherbrooke. It’s taking the meetings on the road to communities across the district.       

In an email to the Journal last week, Warden Greg Wier said the innovation—approved at council June 13 to begin a seventh-month trial next month—will improve representation for communities scattered across the geographically large but sparsely populated municipality.        “We believe by making meetings more accessible, [we are] showing our residents that all councillors do not just represent their home district but the municipality as a whole,” he explained. “We think with restrictions easing and life getting somewhat back to normal, it is a great time for us to make council meetings more accessible.”       

Asked whether the approach has ever before been attempted by the municipality, Chief Administrative Officer Marissa Jordan said in an email, “No, actually, not that staff at the office are aware of.” She noted that “audio recordings for the meetings will continue at [all] locations and will be posted to our municipal website.”       

While the move is a first for St. Mary’s, there is nothing in the Municipal Government Act that prohibits local governments from adopting a satellite model.        

According to Section 19 of then Act, “In addition to regular meetings, council may hold such other meetings as may be necessary or expedient for the dispatch of business at such time and place as the council determines, if each council member is notified at least three days in advance and the clerk gives at least two days public notice of the meeting.”        

Last year, the provincial government amended its legislation to permit virtual meetings by local councils. “Due to the pandemic, we recognized that [these] should be an option for municipalities and villages,” said Brendan Maguire, Minister of Municipal Affairs, in a statement in April 2021. “We’ve listened to municipalities. Those interested in continuing this practice will be able to meet virtually after the state of emergency has been lifted.”       

Currently, St. Mary’s is home to about 2,000 residents in seven electoral districts that cover approximately 2,000 square kilometres. Although council has not discussed making the satellite model permanent, Wier said, “This has been something [we’ve] been interested in doing from the beginning of our term … We’ll see how it goes.”       

The first meeting will be held July 11, 7:00 pm, at the Goshen Community Centre. 

This item reprinted with permission from The Journal, Guysborough, Nova Scotia