City politicians will move Committee of the Whole meetings into a much smaller venue beginning in the new year.
Councillors voted 6-3 at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday to change venues from the Shaw Auditorium at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to the Service and Resource Centre boardroom, with those supporting the move pointing to benefits such as cost savings and a less formal environment.
The new venue will save the city about $21,000 annually, a city report shows, and still allows meetings to be live-streamed – a result of a staff decision to install $43,000 in new video recording equipment in the boardroom, which council previously decided would only have a camcorder. But the room is smaller with seating capacity of 25, as opposed to 200.
Committee of the Whole has the same decision-making powers as council, with the exception of acting on bylaws. It moved to the Shaw Auditorium in 2012, after public pressure for wheelchair accessibility with an intention to move into SARC once it was built. At the time, politicians wanted the meetings recorded and uploaded to the city website.
As of last year, meetings have been recorded in the venue, and in the past two months, new equipment has been installed, including a ceiling-mounted camera, microphones, television and control panel for the stenographer. The room is used by the city and there were days finance would fill it, and those at the back couldn’t see or hear, according to Victor Mema, acting chief administrative officer, who said staff were looking for better sound and picture to deal with teleconferencing capabilities and minimal operation by staff.
Resident Tim McGrath said one of his biggest concerns is the availability of proper recording equipment to the same standard accustomed to, but he’s also found it’s difficult to hear in the boardroom because councillors are in closer proximity and don’t project their voices as well. People have been encouraged to participate in democracy in the city and this is a “step backward,” he said.
“I’m sure this comes as a great shock to everyone, but I agree with Mr. McGrath; we have been encouraging a more democratic exercise at this table and I think that this may interfere with that so I prefer to stay,” said Coun. Diane Brennan, who also prefers the Shaw Auditorium because it allows more people to observe.
Mayor Bill McKay, also in opposition, said with the level of public participation demanded by all governments and 25 to 30 people in the room Monday, there will be more, not less participation. He also ‘hates’ the boardroom, which he said is cold and not conducive to conversation.
However, Coun. Bill Bestwick said for years he’s advocated to have the Committee of the Whole meetings held in a “tighter venue” where the ability to communicate with one another is a little more convenient around the table so they can roll up their sleeves, get to work and have a wholesome discussion in a less formal environment.
He’d prefer not to wear a suit and tie, he said.
If the cost savings can be minimized and if there are challenges that cannot be overcome, he said the Shaw Auditorium would probably still be available.
Coun. Jim Kipp called the Shaw Auditorium expensive and that to get the work done in council it sometimes needs to be informal and he finds the resources building more informal.
“As far as the recording standard, when my emotions get the best of me I am not always certain I want to be recorded by that sidebar record, so the record of the city is the written record,” he said.
Councillors Jerry Hong, Ian Thorpe, Gord Fuller, Bill Yoachim, Bestwick and Kipp approved the new venue.