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Spaniard’s Bay council divided over re-opening chamber

By Mark Squibb/August 12, 2022

The Spaniard’s Bay council chambers will remain closed to the general public due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.

Councillor Tony Dominix, who dialed in to this week’s meeting remotely, said he had requested the item be discussed because he had plenty of residents inquiring about when the chambers will re-open.

He said several folks he had spoken with said they would be willing to come out to an in-person meeting, that council was set to discuss re-opening back in June but did not, and that he had spoken with Municipal Affairs, who told him that councils could re-open to the public at their own discretion.

“There’s nothing restricting us,” said Dominix. “So, I think we should be open, that’s just my opinion.”

Mayor Paul Brazil said he had also spoken with Municipal Affairs, and they had said the same to him.

“The make up of councils around the province varies, so they have left it to the discretion of councils as to how, and to what degree, they were going to open up,” said Brazil.

Dominix said several neighbouring councils have re-opened up to the public.

Town Manger Tony Ryan said it was likely those councils don’t have regular attendees.

Regardless, Dominix said folks continue to reach out to him about it, and that those who feel wary about coming out can still watch the meetings online.

Councillor Darlene Stamp, however, was not on board with the idea.

“I don’t think our chambers is suitable for opening up right now,” said Stamp, who argued social distancing could not be observed in the chamber due to the size of the room.

“The space is just not there,” said Stamp, who pointed out COVID variants continue to spread through the population.

“I’m not in favour of opening up the chambers yet,” said Stamp, noting that the meetings are being livestreamed for the public through the Town’s Facebook page. “I personally don’t agree with opening up yet. I think we should wait and see how this new variant is going.”

Stamp made a motion that the council chambers remain closed to the public for another two months. That motion was seconded by councillor Paul Ryan.

Councillor Sherry Lundrigan added that should council open the chambers, it’s unlikely they would continue to livestream the meeting online. She thought that more people tuned in online than would show up to an in-person meeting.

Mayor Brazil, going back to the issue of the room’s size, said that only two, maybe three socially distant attendees would likely fit into the chambers.

“Which begs the question, how do you manage which three people come? Or which two?” asked Brazil.

Deputy Mayor Tammy Oliver said she could see the argument from both sides.

“Two months is a bit long to wait,” said Oliver. “This is Come Home Year, we put all of these events off, and people were not distancing, people were not wearing masks.”

Lundrigan said she paid the price for attending those events by getting sick, and Stamp pointed out councillors had a choice of attending those events, whereas they cannot choose to attend or not attend council meetings.

Councillor Eric Jewer, like Oliver, said he could vote either way on the matter.

“I’m out working in it,” said Jewer. “I’ve been an essential worker ever since it started. I’m working in it everyday from Placentia Bay to St. Mary’s Bay. But I also respect people around the table if they don’t feel comfortable with it.”

There was a brief discussion on whether or not council could relocate the meetings to a larger room, though Lundrigan, Jewer, and Oliver disagreed with moving the meeting elsewhere – an idea that Dominix had floated earlier in the meeting.

As to the six-foot social distancing rule, both Lundrigan and Stamp argued that councilors were not currently seated six feet from one another as is — let alone if more people were brought into chambers.

“So, you’re not six feet apart, but you want everyone else to be six feet apart,” said Dominix. “So, maybe we should have done that in the beginning, have everyone six-feet apart, because then we could say we have no room for them.”

Stamp, Lundrigan, and Ryan voted in favour of the motion to keep the chambers closed to the public.  Brazil, Oliver, Jewer, and Dominix voted against the motion, defeating it.

After a few moments’ discussion, Lundrigan made a motion to keep the chambers closed to the public indefinitely, while Dominix (who, as he was phoning in remotely, admitted to not hearing everything that was being said in chambers) made a motion to open the chambers again.

Stamp seconded Lundrigan’ s motion, which was followed by a few more moments of discussion of mask wearing and social distancing.

Jewer said Municipal Affairs should have more concrete guidelines in place for councils to follow.

“They send out the Municipalities Act to every councillor that gets sworn in, saying, ‘There’s your rules and regulations,’” said Jewer. “And when it comes to this stuff, they should be saying you’re open, or you’re closed. They won’t take a stand.”

Lundrigan agreed with that assessment, saying Municipal Affairs was washing its hands of the whole business, though Mayor Brazil noted there are 275 municipalities in the province and no two are alike.

Stamp said opening the chambers was too risky to both council and the general public, given the current COVID situation.

“To me, that risk is not worth taking right now,” said Stamp.

The second motion, to keep council chambers closed indefinitely and to discuss re-opening at a later time, which could be as soon as the next meeting, which is scheduled for August 30, was passed, with Dominix voting against the motion and the remainder of council voting in favor.

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