After a unanimous vote from council, Merritt’s corporate officer is now looking into legislation allowing councillors and committee members to phone-in to meetings they cannot attend in person.

The motion was brought forward by Coun. Dave Baker, who suggested the idea after the environment committee failed to meet quorum at two consecutive meetings in 2017.

The environment committee is a six-person select committee of the municipality consisting of members of the public and city councillors.

“You may think it just happened, but I’ve been trying to bring this forward for four or five years, but haven’t done it,” Baker told his fellow councillors at their regular meeting Tuesday (Jan. 23).

He then noted some of the benefits of having a phone-in option for committee meetings, including making it easier to meet quorum and have guest speakers.

“A group of people come to a meeting at city hall, whether they leave work or not, and all of a sudden it’s like well thanks for coming, but we don’t have a quorum,” said Baker. “If that person was able to phone in, you’d of had a quorum.”

Before voting on the motion Coun. Linda Brown suggested using the software application Skype rather than the telephone.

“I’m in favour of council [members] who are not available to be able to have some type of contact to come in to meetings and participate in them, I just don’t think a straight phone call would do it for me,” Brown said at the meeting.

She added it’s important to see the reaction or facial expressions of the person.

Baker said he expects the phone-in option to apply just to committee meetings, agreeing with Brown that it’s important to look at each other in the eye and see facial expressions in a council meeting.

“Committee meetings [are] a little bit different,” he said.

Council passed the motion by a 6-0 vote as Coun. Mike Goetz was not in attendance.

With the motion passed, corporate officer Sean Smith will now prepare a report outlining the options for implementing this type of legislation for council to take into consideration.

Creating a phone-in option will require an amendment to the council procedure bylaw.

“Currently it doesn’t say anything regarding it, so I’ll be bringing a report forward as to what the options are and what the restrictions [would be],” Smith told the Herald.

Smith said the phone in option is designed to be used in situations where it’s impractical for councillors to be in attendance in person and there are usually restrictions placed on it, which council would dictate.