Yellowknife city council held its first regular meeting Monday since the territorial government announced a public emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Only Mayor Rebecca Alty, Senior Administrative Officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett, clerk Debbie Gillard and city directors were physically present for the meeting.
There were no members of the public and the whole of council dialed in by teleconference for the meeting.
Regular council hasn’t been held since March 9 and there have been no Government Priorities Committee meetings over the last two weeks.
Mayor Rebecca Alty and Coun. Niels Konge made brief statements thanking city staff, the GNWT and federal workers as well as businesses during the pandemic. I
“I would like to start by thanking all of the city staff for their hard work in the past couple of weeks for emergency planning and now the emergency management phase of it,” Alty said during the meeting.
“We have an incredible staff and I would like to thank everyone for your hard work working seven days a week and many, many hours. As well as health-care staff, staff at the GNWT, and federal government.
“I would like to thank residents for doing your part during these uncertain times. It is a challenge but I appreciate residents doing their part to make sure we can control this as much as possible.”
Konge also commended businesses large and small “to ensure the community continues to have services we require like groceries, fuel, our water and sewer contractors.
“This is going to take a community to get through this,” he said. “As a community we are certainly pulling very hard and I would like everybody to continue to do what every individual can do to ensure that we keep this spread as small as possible.”
Alty said in a separate interview that Monday’s sparse meeting set-up was to encourage social distancing practices as recommended by territorial and federal health authorities. She also noted that at least two councillors were in self-isolation due to travelling from outside of the NWT recently.
“We wanted to make sure we did social distancing and we could have every other council call in but we found this was a simple way to (run meetings),” she said. “This is us modelling what we hope as many residents as possible can do.”
Monday’s meeting, which lasted about a half-hour, was for the most part uneventful as council approved paving contracts for the coming construction season and made appointments to the city’s board of revision and development appeal board.
This year has attracted public interest in city meetings, including Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson’s bid to allow permanent residents the municipal vote, a proposed quarry by Det’on Cho Corporation near Vee Lake, and questions involving the future of short-term rental accommodations.
Asked what would happen if more controversial issues need to be dealt with that might attract residents in large numbers, she said it is still to be decided.
“We are going to have to work through that because last night was some of the lighter agenda items,” Alty said.
“If this was the time we were reviewing the community plan, for example, and we had a full audience, we would have to set up the safety measures.”
She noted as an example that the City of Winnipeg, which is undergoing a budget review, has set up a public gallery outside its city hall chambers to ensure people sit two metres apart. Television monitors in the lobby could be used to maintain public overflow if meetings were to be too filled with people, she said.
City services during pandemic
Senior administrative Officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett gave a brief overview of the status of city operations since the coronavirus pandemic was declared this month, noting that the situation continues to evolve and the city’s ultimate aim is to ensure that core services remain functioning and that the quality of service that residents expect during normal times can be maintained.
“We have certainly been making adjustments and have been evolving the level of service we have been able to provide,” she said of city operations. “Things have started to ramp up since Friday the 13th. At this point in time our recreation facilities are closed.”
She said the city has begun to move non-essential workers to their homes, while essential workers affiliated with services like water, sewage, garbage, fire service and ambulance are all being monitored regularly to ensure services are provided with safe social distancing.
Other services like IT technicians and the city’s leadership team are also being increasingly seen as “essential,” too, she said.
Bassi-Kellett said the city is encouraging residents to be healthy while staying at home in self-isolation.
The city is encouraging residents to use the city’s outdoor facilities like parks and trails and outdoor rinks to get fresh air and exercise while at home during the pandemic. She noted that this should be limited to practising social distancing and being with only people in one’s household.
She also noted that library has also added up to 4,000 books to its collection since the pandemic and is providing other reading services like Lynda Library.