City councillors may soon be able to phone it in.

At council’s last meeting (Jan. 9) Coun. Dave Baker presented a notice of motion asking staff to draft legislation allowing city councillors and committee members to call in to meetings when they cannot attend in person.

Baker moved from Merritt to Big Bar Lake near Clinton, B.C. last year, having being laid off when the Tolko sawmill shutdown in December of 2016. Though he now has a lengthy commute to Merritt, Baker said what prompted his request was to ensure committee meetings meet quorum.

“There’s been quite a few of our committee meetings that have not had quorum,” said Baker.

The city’s committees meet quarterly of at the call of the chair.

Baker focused on committees

Last year the final two scheduled meetings of the environment committee did not meet quorum.

Coun. Dave Baker

Baker said it would be more convenient if members could call in to meetings they cannot attend in person.

“There’s quite a few communities that allow this already,” Baker said.

The city’s corporate officer Sean Smith said 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 said.

Council will vote on whether or not to direct Smith to prepare this report at next Tuesday’s council meeting (Jan. 23).

Baker said he envisions the option applying primarily to committee meetings, and not regular council meeting as there are no phones in the council chamber.

“I can’t see that as being a possibility in that room. I’m thinking more in the conference room where it’s a smaller venue and someone could be heard over the phone,” said Baker.

He said a phone-in option could be useful in a number of other situations.

For example, it could be used to gather professional opinion without racking up travel costs on visits to other communities or allow council members to more readily speak with visiting government representatives when unable to attend in person.

“There’s any number of things it can be used for; It’s not something to abuse either,” Baker said.

While he doesn’t think there would be a limit on the number of calls, Baker said a person would have to have a good reason for being unable to attend.

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.

“Council has the prerogative to establish the circumstances [surrounding] when it would be appropriate to either call in or use other electronic means,” said Smith.

Smith said he intends to bring forward some examples of how other communities have utilized the phone in option for meetings.