BONNYVILLE - Members of the public won’t be allowed to attend Town of Bonnyville council meetings in-person for now.
On Sept. 14, town councillors voted 5-2 (Coun. Chad Colbourne and Coun. Elisa Brosseau opposed) to limit public attendance at council meetings to Zoom. The decision came as case counts in Bonnyville sat among the highest in the province, and before Premier Jason Kenney reintroduced COVID-19 restrictions to battle rising cases provincewide.
Town of Bonnyville chief administrative officer Bill Rogers suggested three options to council: continue with the status quo of having meetings open to the public; have members of the public join meetings virtually by Zoom; or ask anyone who attends in-person to be vaccinated.
Mayor Gene Sobolewski said he prefers a cautious approach in order to protect town staff.
“My line of thinking is, we should be doing the best we can until these numbers start to slow down a little bit,” he said.
Councillors heard the town is already taking several precautions for the safety of staff and the public. Staff must wear masks in town facilities, vehicles and common areas. Lobby areas are being sanitized and protective barriers have been installed for staff as well.
Council members also debated the optics of allowing people into town facilities during the day, yet not for council meetings.
“I just feel like we’re going halfway and we’re stopping people from coming in to the one thing that they should be able to attend,” said Colbourne. “If you’re going to shut the town office down, then shut it down. But don’t just shut it down for council.”
Coun. Brosseau shared the same concern, questioning the message it would send to close meetings to in-person public attendance. She added the town was doing what it could to mitigate the risk to staff.
“I feel, as an employer, we’re doing all we can to protect the staff,” she said.
Sobolewski said the debate was one reason why he dislikes having administration ask council for direction. The administration usually provides a recommended course of action for councillors, with reasoning to back it up, but this time only recommended that councillors give direction on their preferred response.
“Administration should have provided us with some recommendations that (it) would like to be engaged and undertaken,” he said.
New health measures at pool
The evening after town council met, Premier Jason Kenney announced new widespread restrictions to curb the spread of the fourth wave of COVID-19. He also declared another state of public health emergency.
On Thursday, the Town announced the Bonnyville swimming pool will have new health restrictions as a result. The pool closed Thursday and reopened Friday with new protocols in place.
The pool balcony is closed until further notice, and the town is now requiring reservations for lane swim, family swim and Aquafit.
The size of swimming lessons has been reduced, and patrons at the pool have to wear masks at all times until they’re ready to swim.
No birthday bookings will be allowed until further notice.
A Sept. 16 press release from Rogers noted all other town facilities will remain open to the public.