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Niagara Falls
Saturday, September 30, 2023
Town lets some committees hold hybrid meetings
Coun. Gary Burroughs wants committees of council to meet in-person again.

Some town committees will have the option to meet virtually and in-person this September. 

After receiving feedback from committees of council showing most members prefer to have a choice between in-person or virtual, council is permitting a few of them to go hybrid.

That means committee members could attend the meeting in either format.

The switch from exclusively virtual meetings was pitched in a staff report and approved with minor changes from council on July 18.

Coun. Sandra O’Connor asked that staff report back on the cost of going hybrid when town treasurer Kyle Freeborn said such meetings are more expensive than in-person or virtual-only.

Council agreed that during budget talks, which start in September, it would decide whether to make hybrid meetings permanently available to committees. 

The decision affects the urban design, irrigation, adjustment and heritage committees.

Staff recommended the town also extend the offer to the two committees dealing with the municipal accommodation tax and the tourism strategy, both of which have their first meetings this month.

Coun. Gary Burroughs withheld his support for the changes. 

Burroughs said there are appointees with a lot of expertise and it’s hard to “get the feel” of their input at a virtual meeting.

He wanted to make virtual attendance the “exception” not the rule for committee members.

Town clerk Shaunna Arenburg told council, “We didn’t have a single person pick in-person only.”

Coun. Nick Ruller supported the staff recommendation, but said committee members may have given different answers if they knew the cost a hybrid meeting.

The hybrid format is more expensive because, “We have to set up the meeting twice,” Arenburg said.

This means staff have to prepare the streaming, filming and audio equipment for the in-person meeting and they have to set up the Microsoft Teams meeting for the virtual attendees.

On top of that, technicians need to be on standby in case any of the technology fails.

“If we were to go to full-time hybrid for all of the committees we would need additional support there for them,” Arenburg added.

Burroughs asked why council was “making it tougher on staff.”

The survey of committee members showed that 14 of 21 respondents wanted their choice of in-person or virtual.

O’Connor worried that within a couple meetings, the in-person option would be redundant as most members would opt to meet virtually.

The staff report passed by council recommended that committee meetings revert to virtual-only if in-person attendance was routinely less than one-third of the committee.

Staff suggested that low in-person attendence at three meetings would result in the switch back to virtual.


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