Sanpete government meetings go virtual
By Doug Lowe
A quick survey of cities and towns across both Sanpete and Gunnison valley has revealed a trend that is rapidly changing face-to-face public meetings to longer-distance versions of themselves conducted via the internet and phone.
Last week, about half of the thirteen recorders working for our area’s cities and towns, all took part in an online seminar, or so-called “webinar,” that promised to help municipal government clerks get up to speed with “what it takes to host a virtual public meeting.”
Gunnison’s recorder, Janelle Braithwaite, loved the online event. “It was great training!” she enthusiastically reported afterwards. “I was amazed that it was an international webinar with town clerks in England also attending.” According to Braithwaite, a few days prior to the webinar, the city’s tech guy helped her get Zoom installed, and she planned to practice a few times before using it to hold the first real virtual city council meeting on April 15.
Lacey Belnap, the recorder in nearby Centerfield also attended the webinar. She found it “geared mostly to bigger cities, but still packed with lots of good information.” Whether any of that info will prove helpful has yet to be seen. Since attendance at meetings of city council rarely amounts to a handful of people, she is not sure whether the mayor and members of council will decide that virtual meetings are necessary.
Ephraim’s recorder, Lee Ann Warnock, found the webinar to be “very informative, presenting many options from different companies.” Warnock disavows having much knowledge of technology and is happy that “the decision about how to hold virtual public meetings will be made by the city manager and mayor.”
“The webinar was great, and we are going to use Zoom to hold electronic town meetings,” said Amanda Bennett, the recorder in Mayfield. Going into more detail, she explained “We have a large screen TV in town hall which we serve as our anchor location.”
That term, “anchor location” pops up again and again during discussions of virtual meeting technologies. It can mean the place where an online meeting originates, the site from which it is hosted. In the past, the anchor location was often filled with a live audience. But, in the days of social distancing, only the people who need to host the meeting come to the anchor location. Therefore, even the members of the council, or commission, or whatever governmental body, can stay home while they attend the meeting and perform their civic duties.
Some municipal leaders share the view of Fairview Mayor Dave Taylor in wanting some guidance from the city attorney, the League of Cities, and the Governor’s office as to how a virtual public meeting can be held legally.
While some smaller cities and towns, report that they rarely have more than 10 people at a council meeting, including the government officials holding that meeting, they sometimes have public hearings or special meetings that attract more of a crowd. So, they acknowledge a similar need to find out how they can legally hold a larger meeting by telephone, the internet or both.
In Fairview, Spring City and Mayfield, the respective recorders have already found themselves setting up seats out in the hallway 6-feet apart, while admitting no more than 10 people into the meeting room, and having those individuals seat themselves as far apart as possible.
Information concerning how your city or town will hold future public meetings can best be obtained by calling the office. Also visit the state’s public notice website, www.utah.gov/pmn/index.html.