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Hall Monitor: Virtual Emergency

Kingston City Council broke new ground last night as they sat for both Special Meeting of Council 12-2020 (agenda), as well as meeting 13-2020 (agenda) on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020. The meetings, which were held through virtual meeting software, were notable in that this is the first time Council has ever met electronically.

The special meeting was used to make major changes to the council procedural by-law, enabling virtual meetings such as the one we saw last night. Following that, at the regular meeting, council made sweeping delegated authority changes for swifter response during the COVID-19 situation. Council also conducted business as usual: a tree purchasing contract, approving an affordable housing project, and more.

A screenshot of Mayor Paterson, councillors and Deputy City Clerk Janet Jaynes during the virtual city council meeting on Mar. 24, 2020. Additional staff were available via audio without cameras.

CAO AUTHORITY

Council’s largest action last night happened late in the meeting where, through the municipal act, they unanimously provided the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle with blanket powers to act as needed and respond quickly to the changing COVID-19 situation. This includes:

  • Any actions surrounding expenses, contracts and liabilities previously approved in the 2020 budget.
  • Any action surrounding expenses, contracts and liabilities deemed necessary in response to the COVID 19 emergency.
  • Ability to waive, reduce or defer any fees or payments collected by the city, including amending due dates for property taxes.

“This is to be able to give our CAO and our staff the ability to react quickly to changes on the ground,” said Mayor Bryan Paterson during the presentation of the motion. “The ability [for our staff] to be able to respond quickly is critical,” he added.

While the motion doesn’t give an end date for the CAO’s new abilities, council did retain the authority to recover them at any point, including by a special meeting of council. CAO Hurdle must also provide a public, written report of all times she uses these new authorities.

“Having this delegated authority allows me to make faster decisions, but by no means is it an easy situation to be in. Those are difficult decisions that have to be made,” Hurdle said during motion deliberations. “As soon as we are no longer in a state of emergency, I would be happy to recommend to council that those decisions return to council.”

Lee Coleman of the City’s Information Systems & Tech department sits alone in Ontario Hall as Kingston City Council conducted its very first virtual meeting. Photo provided by Mayor Paterson via Twitter.

KEY TOPICS

Council approved allocating $2.23 million in provincial funding dollars through the ‘Home for Good’ program to the new housing development being completed at the former Princess Street United Church site. This funding will enable the site to add transitional housing units to the project, supplementing the work already under way for the new Youth Services Hub.

As part of its ongoing work to increase the tree canopy, the city is preparing a program that will allow for planting trees on private property. Property owners will be able to purchase a tree for between $10 and $17, which represents about 25 per cent of the retail cost, with the city subsidizing the balance. Council approved the awarding of the purchasing contract to Dutchmaster Nurseries Limited for 2020.

Council also paved the way for pet owners to begin taking their pets on Kingston Transit buses. While the motion will allow for small animals in carriers and on passengers laps to travel, implementation has been delayed “until 90 days after the end of the emergency situation” to allow Transit to amend policies after they recover from current service changes.

ADDITIONAL DISCUSSION

Council also approved a procurement partnership with the Township of South Frontenac for right-of-way construction services, approved a pilot project for planting wildflowers on berms starting with a section of Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard, created a community benefit program to receive $92,000 annually from the nearby Samsung solar field, and approved a variety of minor planning allowances.

The meeting schedule for council has been disrupted due to social distancing and COVID-19 — most municipal meetings have been cancelled. Council will next meet using its virtual council meeting format on Tuesday, Apr. 7, 2020.


Born and raised in Kingston, Tommy Vallier bleeds limestone. An avid council watcher since 2004, he first began reporting on municipal affairs in 2011, helping to modernize meetings and make them more accessible through social media and live video. When he isn’t focused on City Hall, he’s an avid gamer, theatre supporter, and Disney fan.

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