Council taking extra precautions
For the first time this year, Marietta City Council’s formal business meeting will not have an in-person option for attendance.
Due to the increased spread of coronavirus in the Mid-Ohio Valley the legislative body will meet solely virtually today.
“I’ve avoided taking away the live option over the course of the year until now but all of council was amenable,” explained Council President Susan Vessels. “Because there are cases of COVID within the city administration and it seemed like it would be the wisest thing to do for this meeting. We are hopeful to be able to have a live option again for Dec. 17.”
Committee meetings have been held virtually, mixed and solely in person throughout the pandemic, with varied mask-wearing, but now for the first time the biweekly 7:30 p.m. business meeting will only be attended by officials, with the public able to watch on the city’s Facebook page.
“With the increased amount of positive cases in Washington County and the fact that there have been city employees that are concerning, council wished to take part completely Zoom (and) Facebook Live council meeting,” explained City Law Director Paul Bertram, who is also a regular attendee of the meetings. “That ability was extended by House Bill 404 … to July 1 (of 2021) so many municipalities have gone to a straight virtual meeting where everything is done off location so this is the first time that the city has done this.”
Public participation in formal business meetings is more limited than committee meetings where engagement is allowed throughout a committee session from residents, business owners and other visitors.
In-person, the members of the public are invited to step up to the meeting podium, state their name and address and formally address the body.
Council does not regularly answer those comments and discussion is not encouraged in the formal session but instead, topics brought forward are often referred to a member of the administration or a councilperson will schedule the appropriate committee meeting to address the concern.
But virtually, that engagement means that viewers online must follow a similar format, typing their name and address in the comments during the meeting in addition to a comment or question intended for the public record during the fourth order of business.
Audio quality may be improved today, theorized Bertram, due to the solely-virtual format.
“We’ve always had what I refer to as a mixed form … I think in the mixed format it becomes harder to hear,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it will work. But I know that council has gotten some new technology and my office here in the law director’s office is going to have the same technology that’s similar to the (municipal) court that’s been very good.”
So perhaps, at a future meeting in mixed form viewers online and virtual participants will have a greater opportunity to follow the dialogue.
“Hopefully we’ll reach a peak within the community and then cases could go down,” Vessels said. “I will print out a sign and tape it to the door, too, so that if anybody signs up they can sign onto Facebook. It should not be that big of a meeting, although we are introducing the budget for 2021.”
Janelle Patterson may be reached at email@example.com.