By Steve Hubrecht
Invermere council held its second digital meeting last week, with all four councillors using Teams — a software program somewhat similar to Zoom — to attend virtually, and with Invermere mayor Al Miller, Invermere director of finance Karen Cote and acting Invermere chief administrative officer Kindry Luyendyk in the district office, each seated at least two metres from the others.
Council businesses carried on much as normal during the Tuesday, April 28 meeting, but at times it was hard to ignore the virtual nature of the meeting, which provided distraction and mirth for council members. Only four viewpoints are visible to public viewers at any one time, consequently leaving one councillor offscreen (from the viewer’s perspective) but still listening to and watching the meeting. The software program rotated which councillor was offscreen fairly regularly, giving viewers the at-first-disorienting impression that council members were popping in and out of the meeting like digital gophers. After a few minutes of watching, the true nature of how the Teams program functions becomes clear.
The video clearly shows Miller and district staff in the district office, and most councillors in their homes. Councillor Gerry Taft’s screen, however, showed him appearing to patch in from a tropical beach, with palm trees and sand visible behind him, prompting a wry comment from Miller. Confusion for viewers deepened when Taft’s background later shifted to show craggy mountains, leaving befuddled viewers to (correctly) surmise that the background in Taft’s screen was not real, but in fact simply an artificial digital backdrop. Any doubts about this assumption were confirmed when Taft’s screen was swapped out in the video for councillor Greg Anderson’s screen — which briefly depicted him in front of a brilliant pink backdrop polka-dotted with brightly coloured circles. This, understandably, left other councillors unable to control their laughter, before the backdrop on Anderson’s screen shifted and showed his home. And, although there was no public attendance or input, Taft’s daughter made repeated and charming impromptu appearances on her daddy’s lap throughout the council meeting.
Parks and public facilities remain closed, tennis courts remain locked
Council members discussed the recent buzz surrounding media reports that provincial officials are looking at ways to re-open provincial parks and potentially other outdoor public facilities in B.C. Council members noted there’s been much talk on the subject among the public and media, but little on the topic directly from official sources. They also questioned what approach council should be taking with regard to people using Kinsmen Beach and Mount Nelson Athletic Park — which council members pointed out many people have been doing, even though they shouldn’t.
“It was said we could open some public facilities with strict rules in place … To me that then becomes an enforcement issue. Who’s going to babysit those people and make sure they’re not too close?” asked councillor Ute Juras. “(Invermere bylaw officer) Mark (Topliff) can only stretch himself so far, and I’m sure the RCMP (doesn’t have time) to be patrolling parks.”
Taft suggested the district put up signs if need be for liability, and let “adults take care of themselves.” He added it doesn’t make sense to have golf courses opening up — as almost all local courses are doing in the Columbia Valley — but not let people use the district tennis courts, since both sports involve people being multiple metres apart, with little or no opportunity for contact.
“We should hold off for just a little while longer. We’re so far ahead right now. We have such momentum going in B.C., and we’re doing so well. I think if we do open it (the tennis courts) up, then we might send a message of ‘okay, let’s relax a little bit.’ And I don’t know if now’s the time to start relaxing and becoming complacent,” said Juras. “I truly believe and I truly hope that it’s only a matter of a couple weeks, maybe three, until things start tuning around and start changing again. We should not be super hasty. I do agree we need to let people make their own decisions, but I know I’ve noticed in my line of work and by just going to the store, that people are making very poor decisions (about social distancing).”
The other council members, with the exception of Taft, all then voiced opinions to the effect that although council and district staff can’t babysit the public or enforce social distancing, it is their duty to be leaders in the community and to uphold provincial and federal health authority directives, especially seeing that so many residents are not following directives or are seeking loopholes and otherwise trying to get around them. “We have to be socially responsible, we have to lead,” said Anderson.
Taft became impassioned, pointing out there had been no provincial order to close tennis courts, before tabling a motion to unlock them. “It is not a high risk activity,” he said.
No other council member was willing to second the motion, meaning it was defeated before even coming to formal discussion.
Taft also said council needs to have a discussion in the near future about Kinsmen Beach in summer, which he said worries him a great deal. The COVID-19 situation may not have changed much come July and August, and there’s not likely to be a vaccine, he said, outlining his concern about social distancing and limiting crowds to 50 people.
“We know Kinsmen Beach is usually jam packed in August. We know that people are going to be eager to leave Calgary and other places. Whether or not they’re from other provinces, they’re going to want to leave … and come here,” he said. “So we need to start talking about that now, and thinking about that now. To be honest just closing things is not the answer, so let’s start thinking about what the options are, and let’s starting planning this ahead of time.”
No deferred tax sales
During the meeting, council discussed the possibility of deferring the district’s 2020 property tax sales. The provincial government, as part of its COVID-19 action plan, has given local governments the discretion to push back 2020 property tax sales one year. Cote outlined that the district has 21 owners subject to tax sale in 2020, and that 19 of them are what Cote termed “repeat offenders.”
“They come up every year,” she said, adding the total amount owing by these homeowners is $51,000.
Taft said he has a lot of sympathy for people who miss a deadline or two and get hit by an extra fee, but that “by the time you get to tax sale … there’s been several years of not paying taxes. This is not missing a deadline. This is a process of two or three years.” He pointed out that with 19 re-offenders, most of these are situations that pre-date COVID-19 by a wide margin. In the end, council voted not to defer the 2020 tax sales.
Short-term action chart, victim services funding
Council adopted an updated short-term action chart, which outlined the district’s top three priorities over the next few months as (in descending order of importance): public consultation for the Athalmer planning process, needs assessment for attainable/affordable housing, and recruitment of a new full-time chief administrative officer. Council members also voted to give $5,000 to help fund the Columbia Valley Victim Service program in 2020.
Meetings posted online
There is no way for the public to attend the digital council meetings, but the meetings are recorded and later posted to the district’s website and Facebook pages, and the public can email questions for council, which Luyendyk will read out to council during the meeting, up until 6 p.m. on the day of the meeting. She will also email answers back to the people that ask questions.