Council directs staff to plan for return to in-person and hybrid meetings

At their meeting on March 7, 2022, Charlottesville City Council discussed a potential return to in-person meetings.

Dr. Denise Bonds of the Blue Ridge Health District said she would like to see a hybrid-option for people to participate. (staff report)

“Because it is still quite risky for some individuals who are immunocompromised, who can’t get vaccinated for whatever reason, or who have been vaccinated and are just not mounting a strong immune response, it’s really critical that those individuals still have they opportunity that they’ve had over the last two years with Zoom meetings to participate,” said Dr. Bonds. 

Dr. Bonds suggested that masks still be required for attendance, or to hold Council meetings in a larger space than the City Council Chambers. 

Council took about half an hour to discuss whether to extend a local ordinance to allow for the continuing operations of city government during the local declaration of emergency. That declaration expires on April 7 and Council will have to decide whether to renew. A continuity of government ordinance expires on March 18. 

“The reason it’s on your agenda tonight is because March 18 will happen before your second meeting in March,” said City Attorney Lisa Robertson. 

Robertson said staff wanted input on how to proceed with meetings. The continuity of government ordinance can still be in place even after the emergency declaration ends, allowing for electronic meetings to continue. One idea is for Council to convene and meet in person with people being able to view remotely. This would require creation of a safety plan and Robertson explained some of the questions that would need to be answered. 

“How that meeting would be managed in terms of COVID precautions, things like how many people would be in the room, would there be a mask requirement, how will compliance with the rules be monitored, what would the spacing be,” Robertson said. “All of those things that we haven’t really had the chance to nail down specifically.” 

Another issue is where boards and commissions would meet. Many of the meeting rooms in City Hall are too small to fit many people with spacing rules. That will also be factored into the safety plan. 

Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers said staff is examining what it will take to make City Council Chambers work under the safety plan. 

“And there are some estimates that we are waiting to get back so I would say that probably in the next two weeks we should have the information that we need with respect to that,” Rogers said. 

Rogers said CitySpace is being considered as another place for meetings to occur as are school auditoriums. Another item under consideration is how Councilors could participate remotely. 

Council adopted the motion unanimously to extend the continuity of government with the addition of the need for a safety plan. 

“I would like to see us open as much as we reasonably can with reasonable safety, and this is going to sound utterly lawyerly, but with also reasonable safeguards available to people who have different medical needs.”

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 15, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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