Bridgewater town council meets in person for first time in 5 months
N.S. government issued directive July 29 allowing in-person municipal meetings, if health protocols are met
The Town of Bridgewater's council met in person on Monday evening for the first time in nearly five months.
Under the Nova Scotia state of emergency, Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter ordered councils to only hold meetings virtually, by phone or video.
But a new directive was issued July 29 allowing meetings in person, if public health protocols on gathering limits and physical distancing are met.
Bridgewater Mayor David Mitchell said the protocols worked and the COVID-19 curve was flattened, so it's time councils start meeting in person again.
"It's symbolic of not that the pandemic is over, but that Nova Scotians, including councils, have done their job to at least be able to gather safely in small groups," he said.
"I really think that's the message it sends. Good job everyone, public as well. We got it to the point where we can kind of have some normalcy, whatever that looks like now."
In an interview before the meeting, the mayor said he was looking forward to an in-person session.
"I'm super excited," he said. "Monday was always my favourite day of the week, because I love meeting with council, but I'm particularly excited to get back together with council in person. It's been a long time."
Mitchell said if anyone is uncomfortable, staff and councillors have the option of joining virtually.
The town had to seat councillors a little farther apart and some staff were moved to the public gallery, he said.
Restrictions on public
Bridgewater is feeling its way through the new rules, he said, and is only letting members of the public in five at a time.
Anyone interested in attending was asked to register in advance for contact tracing purposes, and to determine how many people might have to be accommodated.
Mitchell said spectators might have to rotate in and out, depending on which parts of the agenda they are interested in, and meetings will continue to be live streamed for the public on social media.
"We'll roll with it and adapt as best we can, but we also can do it as a kind of a hybrid, so we could have them in another room ... so that at least they're close by," he said.
In-person meetings preferred
Mitchell said meeting in person is preferable. Debate sometimes gets cut off during virtual meetings because the chairperson can't see the participants, he said.
Mitchell said he agreed with the need for virtual meetings early on, when the best course was to avoid contact, but in April the minister gave businesses and non-profits the option of meeting in person under certain conditions.
"As we got into May and June and then July, it just became frustrating that we could have met in person and we weren't allowed to legally," the mayor said.
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