Participating electronically, Coun. Charlie Hodge takes part Monday in Kelowna's city council meeting. Council adopted a new policy requiring councillors who want to participate electronically after missing two in-person meeting to get approval from the mayor.

Kelowna city councillor Charlie Hodge, his health threatened by COVID-19, has no intention of returning to meetings at City Hall anytime soon.

"Until there's less concern over covid, I'm really reluctant to come into that building," Hodge said during Monday's meeting when, as he has for many months, he participated from home via the Internet.

Hodge, who has final stage emphysema and relies on an oxygen tank to breathe, said he misses in-person attendance at meetings.

"I'd much rather be there than stuck at home," he said. "I would much rather be at a council table than doing anything else."

Hodge said his electronic participation, while allowing him to join council meetings, was also a source of some frustration: "I'm stuck in a box here. I hate it."

Hodge was commenting on his experience as a member of council during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic because of a proposal from staff. The suggestion was that a councillor not be permitted to participate electronically for more than two meetings unless they received special permission from the mayor.

Officials from the city clerk's office said the proposal reflected the general principle, outside of a special period such as the pandemic, that councillors should attend meetings in person.

In some other communities, councillors heard, elected representatives also went on long vacations and wanted to participate electronically in meetings.

Coun. Loyal Wooldridge said he thought all council members should get a vote on whether one of their colleagues be allowed to participate electronically after two meetings when they were not in chambers.

Coun. Brad Sieben said he was also concerned that a mayor might be feuding with a councillor, and deny permission for virtual attendance out of spite. "You do wonder, would there ever be an autocratic style of mayor who wouldn't allow that to happen?" Sieben asked.

But other councillors said they were fine with the mayor making the call on prolonged virtual attendance.

"There may be personal situations with the councillor that the councillor doesn't want to share with the full council," Coun. Gail Given said.

Should a mayor ever deny a councillor's request to participate electronically, the other councillors could simply vote in favour of a special resolution to over-rule the mayor's decision, city clerk Stephen Fleming noted.

That settled the discussion and councillors, including Hodge, voted to restrict virtual attendance to two consecutive meetings without the approval of the mayor.

"I have no problem at all with you," Hodge told Mayor Colin Basran. "I trust you to be a fair and logical man and make the right decisions."

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