The emergency situation has affected people from almost all walks of life. In addition to the negative aspects, the crisis has highlighted new needs that were not normally worth thinking about, but now needed quick solutions. One such example was the development of digital solutions necessary for the electronic organization of Tallinn City Council meetings.
According to Mr Tiit Terik, the Chairman of the Tallinn City Council, it was clear at the very beginning of the emergency that the work of the Council as the highest political body in the capital cannot be stopped, because many issues that needed to be decided quickly fall within the exclusive competence of the council. "Be it a temporary exemption from the location of a kindergarten, a free right to travel for non-residents during an emergency, or other measures that the city government proposed to alleviate the crisis," Terik explained.
It was not possible to start holding electronic sessions immediately due to the lack of the necessary technological solutions. They just had not were not necessary before. It was also unclear at the outset whether holding sessions electronically was legal. Therefore, at the end of March, it was agreed with the political groups represented in the council that, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, only one representative from each political group would initially attend the meetings. "My clear interest was for the council to be able to take decisions in plenary again as soon as possible, doing so legally and involving as many members as possible," said the chairman of the council. "Estonian local governments have interpreted the electronic organization of council sessions differently and there are still different views on this issue. The Ministry of Finance has said that electronic sessions are legal, while former Chancellor of Justice, said that councils must always meet physically."
The first e-session of the Tallinn Council was held in the middle of April, but by then the voting system had not yet been completed. The items on the agenda which required a vote were put to the second reading. The electronic voting system, which was introduced on 30 April, now allows for the full organization of council meetings electronically, if necessary.
"This is undoubtedly a historic event for the council," said Martin Männil, the City's Director of Information Technology. "In less than a month, information system Teele was given the opportunity to vote securely logged in at the council session in the Tallinn Legislative Information System, which is being implemented. Council members were to take part in the decision-making process through the IS. There is an agenda for the meeting, together with the draft and the accompanying supporting material, which the Council members can consult. "
Council members who have logged in with an ID card or mobile ID can register their wish to give their opinion about the items on the agenda in a speech, vote securely on all decisions and verify the correctness of the vote. In addition to Teele, video conferencing software Microsoft Teams is used to conduct e-sessions of the council, through which the chairman of the council chairs the session and in which presentations and questions are made. However, the online audio-video system of the council will be used for the webcast of the sitting, with the help of which a camera image of the council hall will be shown on the webcast of the public sitting, alternating with speeches in Teams and votes in Teele.
Will Tallinn City Council sessions be held electronically even after the end of the emergency? According to Terik, in the interests of political debate, disputes should take place in the room. "Therefore, Tallinn Council will meet again physically as soon as possible," said Terik. "However, the opportunity to hold e-sessions is a worthy helper if a situation arises in the future that prevents people from gathering in the hall."