"The world has changed," says Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board of directors, declining to look into changing payment for directors who attend meetings remotely rather than in person.
At Thursday's meeting, Kaleden/Apex Area I director Subrina Monteith brought forward a motion to review the remuneration bylaw to bring it back to pre-COVID levels.
Before the pandemic, directors attending remotely only had a dial-in telephone option if they could not physically be in the board room, and would get half the amount of money they would normally get for attending a meeting.
As it stands now, attendance at a board meeting means $183.73 for a director, with up to $91.73 per meeting allowed for approved expenses. Remote attendance, which is now fully video-capable, is an unquestioned method.
The board showed little appetite for change to that status quo.
Board meetings are held in Penticton, so more rural directors face long commutes and potential weather challenges. As well, there is the ever-looming concern of sickness.
"I think we need to get through this winter first. And then I would certainly support a review of it in the spring. But I think we don't know what this [winter] is going to be like. We could all be online next week," said director Doug Holmes, mayor of Summerland.
Director Tim Roberts of rural Keremeos — attending over video — pointed to the amount of money end effort the RDOS has put into setting up the infrastructure for virtual meeting attendance over the past years, and how well it is working.
"I don't believe [remote attendance] is something that we should be having a punitive action to those who may live in rural communities, and when we have inclement weather or we have health issues that preclude us from being able to attend in person," Roberts said.
"We are still at that time saving money for not having our travel expenses, so it is providing a savings to the taxpayer. At the same time, we are able to fully engage at the board level, which was not the case previously."
Director Spencer Coyne, mayor of Princeton, explained he attended virtually Thursday because members of his family are sick and he did not want to spread the bug, and rural Oliver director Rick Knodel said online meetings have become "a normal component of business."
Director James Miller, Penticton councillor, agreed remote meetings are working.
“I do remind everyone that there's been a fair amount in the national press that working from home is the new norm and so maybe it's here to stay,” Miller said.
Director Helena Konanz, Penticton councillor, was the lone voice in favour of director Monteith's proposed review.
“I want you all to be here,” Konanz said, explaining that, cases of illness being the exception, she finds value in meeting in person, and if small businesses workers in RDOS communities have to show up in person for work, their elected officials should too.
“I don't think anyone should be penalized, but I really think all of us should show leadership and come to the meetings.”
The motion to direct staff to look into changing the pay structure back to what it was pre-COVID failed, with Konanz and Monteith voting in favour.