By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The height of COVID wasn’t an easy time for anyone, and that’s especially true when it comes to municipal governments and how they operated over the pandemic.
“Things have changed in the area, and I’m sure you can attest to this as well in your field where we’ve all had to adapt accordingly and deal with different changes,” said Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop. “Like the Zoom format, how many meetings like that have we been a part of thus far? I’ve lost count myself. Those are not the best and most efficient meeting formats, but it was something we had to do. But it’s certainly not as effective and as efficient as meeting in person, even not as friendly. But adaptability is key and we’ve all had to do that to provide things accordingly.”
Prokop also touched on how the isolation affected people’s mental health, but Taber town council stayed relatively spared from that reality as they still tried to meet in person as much as they could.
“It’s been tough and we’ve all been cooped up, and talking about mental health; it’s tough on all of us. With us, as a council, we never didn’t meet in person and we had an occasional councillor join us remotely, but we almost met as the majority in council in person. We have the penalty box screen type of thing, but we just felt as a council it was important to be in-person to keep that flow going, and a lot of councils did not so we’re proud to say we were able to do that and we were comfortable doing that. It’s worked very well for us. However, it required us to adapt to make things as safe as possible.”
Additionally, Prokop mentioned how times were also extremely uncertain for a small while and things were constantly changing day by day.
“We’ve followed Dr. Hinshaw’s best advice and we’ve updated our website according to all of that as well. It’s a difficult thing no matter who’s in power to deal with effectively, but I do think that a lot of things in the government were adapted and changed on the fly and that made it difficult on all of us. It was very confusing and from one week to the next sometimes it was hard to keep up. We did a very good job with Meghan (Brennan, communications and projects coordinator) and our media liaison team in that aspect of reporting, but I think the town of Taber as a whole did good. We didn’t want things to be more difficult than they had to be, so we had to try and accommodate everybody in all areas. Even people who came as a delegation, most weren’t coming in person and we do still have the option to come in virtually now so you have to have that adaptability. Those weren’t changes we had my last two terms previous to the pandemic and that’s a big change. We’ve all had to adapt and understand and move forward.”
The changes Taber’s government made reflect a lot on how advancements in communications technology as a whole made it easier and safer for governments and workplaces to run over the pandemic, but still operate safely and effectively.
It was also noted how Taber just wanted to operate as was ordained by the provincial government, with Prokop stating, “We didn’t want any resistance, and in turn, we didn’t want to give any resistance as the provincial government didn’t need that from us. Everything was handled accordingly and I think we were quite consistent in doing so.”
However, as with all technology it is bound to fail and have problems at some points in time, and when it does we have IT to help us through those pains.
“I don’t know that I’ve been on any Zoom type meeting or invite yet where there weren’t technical problems, honestly. Whether somebody is delayed or you lose somebody there was always some kind of technical issue. I’ve been on meetings where there is as many as 400 people which is too many and I think that isn’t an effective type of format. We were even split up into groups of 100 which is too big and you just can’t get to everybody in two hours. Probably 30 and under I would suggest would be more manageable, and maybe I’m just unlucky in that way but anyone I’ve been involved in there has been some technical issues,” said Prokop.
He also touched on the fact everyone was doing their best to have their technology working, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.
“From myself, to council members, to delegations, we’ve had trouble with them all. We have a really great IT department, too, which does very well with our tech requirements, but even they were struggling sometimes to get things working right. Sometimes you lose sound altogether and you just have to find out how to fix it. We had that not too long ago because they had no sound, so the live-stream had to be shut down and there was no real explanation as to why that happened. It’s frustrating, but it’s difficulties our people go through too. It’s electronic and it’s manmade technology, so things can break down and not work right or the Wi-Fi cuts out or something, so it’s been frustrating to deal with sometimes but once it’s working, it’s working great and fine but sometimes it doesn’t.”
All in all, there’s no denying that transferring to a more digital form of communication in our rapidly expanding digital age was bound to come with some growing pains; yet it happened a lot faster than a lot of us were probably hoping for.
COVID pushed for innovations and the implementation of technology that maybe some individuals, governments or companies had never seen or heard of before, and while it was probably bound to happen eventually. COVID smacked the world in the face hard. Technology is always amazing until it doesn’t like to work.