Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt was at the centre of a council discussion Feb. 4 around requiring city councillors attending meetings electronically to have their cameras turned on at all times. (Screenshot/victoria.ca)

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt was at the centre of a council discussion Feb. 4 around requiring city councillors attending meetings electronically to have their cameras turned on at all times. (Screenshot/victoria.ca)

Victoria looks to tighten up rules for electronic council meeting attendees

Disruptions during phone-in session leads Coun. Ben Isitt to apologize to council, public

Called on the carpet last week for engaging in what some felt were disruptive activities while on the phone during a committee meeting, Coun. Ben Isitt explained himself on Thursday.

He gave a several-minute speech at the start of the Feb. 4 committee of the whole meeting outlining how founding and overseeing a meals program for seniors and others hard hit by the pandemic had kept him busy since the lockdown began in late March – longer than expected – and distracted him from municipal business.

Isitt defended himself, saying, “members of the public and colleagues on council can judge my actions. I have a clear conscience.”

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Then came an apology.

“I would like to apologize to colleagues on council staff and members of the public for not providing my undivided attention to municipal matters over the past 10 months. I realize this has resulted in some inefficiencies and distractions during some committee meetings.”

With funding secured and employees and management in place for the meals program, Isitt said he expected to have more time to devote to council business.

Isitt’s multi-tasking during meetings came to a head at the end of the Jan. 28 committee meeting. Angered by Isitt participating by phone while overseeing installation of a community warming tent on Cook Street, Coun. Stephen Andrew curtly called the behaviour “offensive” to residents.

Andrew, supported by councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Marianne Alto, crafted a motion asking staff to look into requiring councillors participating electronically in meetings to always be able to be seen and heard by their colleagues.

The resulting discussion was lengthy, but ultimately saw direction to staff to come up with a policy recommendation that would allow the meeting chair and city clerk to monitor meeting attendees on screen at all times, with the public and other councillors able to see the person when they are speaking or voting.

Stepping away from the camera, like stepping away from the council chambers, would see councillors shown as absent from the meeting until their return.

“This will make our meetings more efficient, more transparent and create a better respect and trust with all colleagues at the table,” Thornton-Joe said.

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The discussion touched on needs for some level of privacy for online councillors who aren’t speaking or voting, and at one point Isitt said a requirement for cameras to be on at all times was like instituting a “surveillance culture.”

Alto disagreed with Isitt’s notion, reminding council that they are public figures who are often approached by people during their private time.

Staff will report back on the matter at a later date.


 

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