ST. PAUL - A quick policy review during Tuesday's County of St. Paul council meeting turned into a discussion that resulted in a dress code being put in place for meetings where councillors are visible to the public - virtually and in-person.
The Meeting Procedures Bylaw 2021-15 was presented for council's approval on Oct. 12.
"This bylaw has been reviewed and amended by the Policy Committee. The majority of the changes to the policy relate to electronic communication, virtual meetings and livestreaming," explained CAO Sheila Kitz.
"The Policy Committee has also agreed to add a section on the process for public works meetings. The committee is proposing including the option for delegations to attending public works meetings. The final amendment being proposed states that head gear and hats will be removed when a meeting is in order," said the CAO.
Changes also relate to prohibiting the use of cell phones during meetings.
Coun. Kevin Wirsta asked why cell phone use was an issue during meetings, noting they can be used for a quick fact check, or to confirm information during a discussion. Also, while doing virtual meetings, the agenda can be accessed easily on a cell phone, while a councillor's computer is being used for the meeting itself.
"It can be distracting if people are on their phones," said Reeve Steve Upham. Tuesday's meeting was the reeve's last meeting ahead of the Oct. 18 election, where he was not seeking re-election.
Coun. Darrell Younghans also noted that prohibiting cell phone use means councillors must give their "undivided attention" to the meeting.
Wirsta responded, saying, "this is the 20th century" and said he felt that councillors were old enough to be responsible with their phones during meetings.
Upham agreed, but noted that if a future council was dysfunctional and there were councillors texting each other during discussions and deciding how to vote on matters, there could be issues.
Kitz said she could clarify in the policy that the rule was for "in-person" meetings only, and acknowledged that for virtual meetings it is useful to use a second screen to view the meeting agenda.
Wirsta also brought up concerns regarding the dress code portion of the policy. As someone who wears a hat regularly, Wirsta said he was fine with the change, but said if headgear wouldn't be allowed, then a shirt and tie should be required for public meetings.
"This is business," he said, adding, councillors are representing ratepayers when they are in public meetings.
"I don't think that's too much to ask," agreed Upham.
Administration was directed to amend the policy and add a "dress code" portion.
Coun. Maxine Fodness asked if the shirt and tie policy would be in place for women council members, to which it was noted no, but business attire would still be expected. She also asked if it would eliminate councillors wearing jeans.
Councillors agreed that jeans could be worn with a shirt and tie, but not jeans with holes.
Wirsta, who is seeking re-election in Division 2, is often seen wearing a cowboy hat in council meetings. He took off his hat immediately following the policy being approved unanimously by council.
Coun. Dale Hedrick, who is also seeking re-election in Division 5, noted that the discussion and topic was perhaps a reason why it is important for all of council to be included in the policy committee, rather than just a few members of council.