Oak Bay leads the way electronically

Councillor attends critical meeting while out of the country

Oak Bay is leading the way with electronic meetings.

During its special council meeting to consider variances for the proposed redevelopment of the Oak Bay Lodge site Coun. Tara Ney participated via Skype.

While on vacation, her comments and vote were recorded during the June 27 meeting as part of a bylaw adopted just two days earlier.

“I think it worked very well,” said Mayor Nils Jensen. “We’re launching Oak Bay council into the electronic age on a number of fronts, this is one of them.”

Oak Bay council asked staff to write the procedural bylaw at its May 28 meeting and outlined some parameters. The bylaw came before council June 11 and under direction from council to see that it was up for adoption prior to the special council meeting June 27, was adopted on June 25.

“It reflects the fact that many of our councillors have full-time jobs,” Jensen said. “It recognizes the role of councillor and mayor as a part-time job on behalf of  the community. This is a way that you can participate if you are travelling or away on business.”

The use of Skype – Microsoft software that allows users to communicate in real time via voice, video and instant messaging through the Internet – during a public meeting is a first for the region.

Victoria has, on occasion, had councillors participate in meetings via telephone but not Skype. “We are considering webcasting, and I expect there may be further discussions in this regard at that time,” said Katie Josephson, director of communications for the City of Victoria.

Esquimalt’s bylaw allows a council member to participate electronically because of illness or injury or with permission of council.  While they’ve used the telephone conference call for in-camera sessions, it’s not been used during a public meeting  of council.

In Saanich there’s a provision for electronic participation in an “urgent” situation. It has yet to be used.

“It’s just for limited occasions,” Jensen said of the new Oak Bay bylaw. “The limit is three times a year at this point. If this goes well we can think of extending it as we get used to Skype and teleconferencing.”

Other elements of the electronic move for the municipality is a revamped website and electronic agendas.

“We’re going to try to go paperless,” Jensen said.