Arguably, it was the most surreal City Council gathering in the 18 years that SooToday has covered its biweekly meetings.
The Civic Centre was closed to the public tonight, a precaution against further spread of the infectious disease COVID-19.
The meeting was held under an emergency bill approved last week by the Ontario government, allowing municipal councils and committees to meet electronically.
No citizens were present.
No activists. No protesters. No cantankerous journalists. Not even any city councillors.
The handful of approved individuals allowed into City Hall tonight had to pass a series of coronavirus-related questions and apply hand sanitizer.
Only three people were actually inside the Council Chambers for tonight's meeting: Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm White, City Clerk Rachel Tyczinski, and Frank Coccimiglio, the city's information technology manager who was there to ensure the teleconferencing technology worked flawlessly, allowing city councillors and senior staff to participate remotely.
Mayor Christian Provenzano was in the building but phoned in from his office.
With the mayor's chair empty, White and Tyczinski were able to maintain the required two metres of social distancing at the dais at the front of the room.
Among other things, councillors voted electronically to buy 73 Brock and 64 Bingham St. as a new home for the Mill Market, and a building owned by Mike Scholz at 516 and 526 Bay St. to improve traffic flow and parking at the new downtown plaza.
Two planning matters were deferred to future meetings because provincial law required those involved to be given the opportunity to physically attend their hearings.
Councillors also agreed to waive property tax interest and penalties until May 31, accommodation taxes until June 30, and interest on user-fees accounts receivable until June 30.
Councillors further voted to approve the following resolution on novel coronavirus:
Mover: Mayor C. Provenzano
Seconder: Councillor C. Gardi
Whereas we recognize the COVID-19 pandemic is a highly contagious virus; and
Whereas we know that the COVID-19 virus is in Northern Ontario and the Algoma region; and
Whereas we know that hundreds of thousands of people have returned or are returning from March break vacations and from winter destinations in the U.S. and that those returning people represent an additional risk of introducing COVID-19 into and around our community; and
Whereas the city, Algoma Public Health, Sault Area Hospital and other community partners have been advising people to practice social distancing and self-isolate, and specifically asking all returnees from out of country to self-isolate; and
Whereas we all still need to engage in essential activities such as grocery shopping and picking prescription or over the counter medication; and
Whereas it is critically important to our community, its health and well-being, and the health and well-being of our province and country that we slow the spread of COVID-19 and that we all have to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19;
Now, therefore, be it resolved that City Council requests all of the citizens of the community:
- learn about COVID-19 and its symptoms at www.algomapublichealth.ca
- self-isolate for 14 days if they have any of the symptoms of COVID-19
- self-isolate for 14 days if they have returned from out-of-country travel
- for those people not in self-isolation, learn about and practice social distancing
- for each of us to encourage our family, friends and associates to self-isolate if they have symptoms or if they have returned from out of country travel
- for each of us to extend a hand and assist those in self-isolation so that we can assure people have what they need when self-isolating
Be it further resolved that City Council requests all of the businesses of our community, specifically including all grocery stores, pharmacies and other operations providing essential services:
- learn about COVID-19 and its symptoms at www.algomapublichelath.ca
- establish and implement cleaning protocols sufficient to eliminate and/or reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 at their operation
- to reduce and limit the number of people permitted into their store at the same time and at a level significantly below their capacity, so that all people within their facility have plenty of space to maintain proper social distancing
- to mark and maintain proper social distancing spacing at all cashier and checkout stations
- to work with and adhere to any recommendation that Algoma Public Health makes that exceed any of the requests made herein