A Hamilton councillor will be Zooming into an important council meeting from the other side of the world after leaving the country earlier this month to visit his wife in Canada.
Hamilton West ward councillor Ewan Wilson, who has been nicknamed the Ottawa member of council by his colleagues, has been in Canada for the past month. He does not plan to return to New Zealand until August - meaning the earliest possible date he can re-enter council chambers in person is late August after managed isolation.
Wilson had already been out of the country for about a month and is not due to return until mid-August. On his return he will then be in a managed isolation facility for 14 days.
Wilson said he planned to reimburse the Government for his time in managed isolation because he chose to visit his wife and daughter who live there.
"Because of the lockdown, we had been apart for over three months and I have found it very hard."
Wilson's wife will continue to live in Canada to help his daughter, who was expecting her first child in October, while Wilson said he was committed to living in Hamilton for this term and beyond.
Wilson said he would continue to attend all council and committee meetings and be available for constituents via Zoom and email.
He had booked an Air New Zealand flight for August 10 and said if there was any unforeseen reason it was cancelled then he would just rebook.
In previous terms, Wilson has come under fire for being absent for drawing salaries from the city council and the district health board while based in Norfolk Island for six months before deciding not to re-stand for election. In 2015, then deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman called for his resignation saying Wilson was too busy to attend council meetings.
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate was not aware of Wilson applying for leave or making apologies but said he had been speaking to council colleagues and attending meetings via Zoom.
She said councillors were "effectively self-employed" and it was up to them to choose how much they wanted to be involved in the community.
"I know he was pretty excited to see his wife as he hadn't seen her for many months and Covid-19 was a pretty hard time for him on his own because his mother had passed away as well."
However, Wilson is not the only one who has been making the most of the council's new-found Zoom functions. New mum Sarah Thompson can be seen zooming in while swaying her young son Leo in a front pack. Councillors Geoff Taylor, Mark Bunting, Margaret Forsyth and Kesh Naidoo-Rauf also tuned in remotely last week.
But Southgate expected the majority of councillors to turn up to council chambers for meetings such as Thursday's important annual plan meeting unless - like Thompson - they had legitimate reasons not too.
The current legislation introduced just prior to lockdown allowed councillors to vote remotely and this had not yet been revoked.
She said meetings ran much more smoothly when everyone was in the chamber and it also enabled elected members to have conversations with each other.
"It's hard. It's hard. Because you are looking at a screen with almost 20 people on it and you are trying to concentrate on another screen with an agenda on it. It's a great tool - don't get me wrong - I think it is really good but it shouldn't be the replacement of in-person meetings in my view."
Southgate said at this stage Wilson would be attending via Zoom from Canada and she expected Thompson would too. Angela O'Leary had also made her apologies and was on leave.
"In an ideal world we would all be around the table trying to feed off each other for the annual plan."
Southgate said it was disappointing O'Leary would not be present to contribute to council's decision around the annual plan because she would have "added a lot of value".