Saint-Lazare holds first public council meeting since start of COVID-19
PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK
Saint-Lazare councillors practice social distancing during the first public meeting at city hall since March due to COVID-19 concerns.
Saint-Lazare held its first council meeting open to the public on Tuesday evening, August 11, after a four-month suspension due to the global pandemic. For Mayor Robert Grimaudo, the return of public meetings indicates a return to a semblance of normalcy amid the continuing threats of the virus.
There were some notable changes to the council chamber itself which were instituted in order to comply with social distancing regulations. Two of the five current sitting councillors, along with Mayor Grimaudo, sat at their regular spots atop the podium behind their respective council chamber desks.
The other three councillors sat behind separate desks six feet apart in front of the main council chamber podium. Chairs for the public were also spaced six feet apart. Residents were allowed to ask questions during the question period by speaking into a microphone which was wiped clean by an attendant each time another citizen approached the podium. Five citizens were present at the meeting.
“We need to be careful obviously. As you can see there’s a limited amount of people we will allow into the council chamber. It’s great to be face-to-face with the public again,” Grimaudo told The Journal during an interview in the mayor’s office after the meeting. A maximum of 19 people are allowed into the council chamber under the current restrictions.
Democratic process not affected
The mayor said that while the closure of council meetings may have somewhat hampered the democratic process in other municipalities, Saint-Lazare council was able to provide unimpeded access to its council through the live-streaming of its meetings that began almost one year before the start of COVID-19
“I’m happy to say that here I don’t think that was the case at all. First of all, all of our council meetings were live-streamed on the Internet. As well during question period, we were accepting online questions. In fact we were getting many questions and we responded to every single one of them,” said Grimaudo.
“It’s better to be sitting in front of the public, but I’m happy to say that the way we proceeded in the past few months went very well. I think this council in particular has done an excellent job to respond to all the needs of our citizens despite COVID-19,” added Grimaudo.
Two new council seats
With a current population of over 21,000 residents, Saint-Lazare council has been obliged to add two new council seats in order to comply with provincial government regulations that requires all Quebec municipalities with a population of over 20,000 residents to have eight council seats.
The issue was raised by resident Richard Masys who asked whether the new positions will result in an increase in taxes. Mayor Grimaudo said any increase in tax bills would be negligible.
District 6 Councillor Brian Trainor reiterated that the move from six to eight councillors was due to provincial government regulations. “We applied for an exemption but were refused because our population is now over 21,000 residents,” he said.