Remote participation public hearing a first for City of Edmonton

There’s an old saying that municipal government is the government closest to the people. Last week, for the first time, it was also the most remote. 

On Tuesday, April 28, the City of Edmonton held its first-ever remote participation statutory public hearing. 

“It took teamwork and patience and perseverance,” said Kate Gibson, who serves as a Legislative Services Advisor in the Office of the City Clerk. 

“We heard feedback that it was easy to join and that people were really pleased.”

Pandem-ocracy in action

Nineteen members of the public, including a host of developers, called in and were on the line and answered the roll call registration. City Councillors and Administration leaders were either in Council Chambers or joined remotely.

The physical distancing regulations in place to protect people from COVID-19 set the stage for the remote meeting. A coalition of the innovative took it from there. 

City of Edmonton employees from the Development Services and Legal Services, the Office of the City Clerk, Open City and Technology and Facilities combined their efforts to bring a networked solution to life.

The zoning stuff of municipal government up for decision included closing a lane Downtown, allowing for a school/park site development in the Laurel neighbourhood and allowing for low density residential and multi-unit housing in The Uplands.

In all, 15 pieces of municipal business—bylaws, charter bylaws, implementation plans—were dealt with and approved. 

City Council approved a rezoning in Keswick in the remote meeting

Keeping business moving 

Travis Pawlyk, the City’s Director of Planning Coordination, was in Council Chambers during the meeting. He said remote participation of the public allowed the usual work of government to continue in unusual times. 

“The public hearing is the first step in the development process,” said Pawlyk. “It’s an important part of city building for everyone who is involved and for the whole community. It’s important to show that we’re open for business.” 

Jodie Wacko of The Beaverbrook Group participated in the meeting remotely. 

“In the past number of weeks we have all had a crash course on how to communicate and conduct business virtually and remotely,  so the public hearing was just another event that we all had to adjust for,” said Wacko, President, Communities and Commercial.

“Given the complexity of the hearing and the mandate of keeping the meeting open and accessible to the public, I think it went as well as could be expected – thanks in large part to Administration’s efforts behind the scenes and Council’s willingness to be patient as we worked our way through the first one.”

City Council Public Hearing vote displayed

Accessibility 

For Gibson, the example of remote public participation meeting holds the promise of greater inclusion.

“What is accessibility for me might not be the same as accessibility for you,” Gibson said. “So, to be able to phone or video into a meeting if that is what you need…The more accessible we are, the better we’re going to be.”

Two more remote public hearings are scheduled for May 12 and May 26.

Editor’s note: the image at the top of the post is a screenshot from the public hearing live stream accessed via edmonton.ca