City Council looks to virtual meeting options

ARLINGTON – The City Council is changing its public meeting process to satisfy new social distancing rules and help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

City staff at Monday’s workshop will demonstrate a videoconferencing setup that will enable council members to remotely access into meetings by phone or computer if they choose not to attend in person, City Administrator Paul Ellis said. The same goes for directors.

To do that, council members will first need to amend the city’s meeting policies that fall within the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

A memo for cities from the state Attorney General’s Office offered guidance for how to conduct meetings during the declared state of emergency.

Under the act, council chambers must be open, even if council members aren’t present, and a speakerphone must be available so the public can listen to the discussion.

The Attorney General also advised including in the public notice for the meeting agenda ways that residents and other stakeholders can listen in. Local governments are advised to strongly encourage the public to use alternate means of attending, rather than in person, given the need for social distancing.

While the act does not require public comment, the Attorney General said local governments should consider accepting only written or emailed comments for the time being.

“The safest thing is for people to comment in writing and have it read into the record,” Ellis said.

City staff is arranging chairs 6 feet apart to meet social distancing guidelines.

Most of the city’s other citizen-led committees and commission meetings have been canceled.

“We’re open for business, but we’re trying to keep social distance,” Ellis said.