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St. Clair adopts rules for virtual meetings during pandemic

By Jim Bloch

The St. Clair City Council held a virtual special meeting on April 8 to establish rules for holding virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council members, mostly attending via Zoom from their homes, adopted a resolution that will govern the remote attendance for meetings of the council as well as city boards and commissions. The rules pertain to the various board member and city officials as well as members of the general public.

“We’ll dispense with roll call,” said Mayor Bill Cedar wearing a face mask. “Warren is here in the room with me. We have Ellery on the phone.”

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Warren Rothe is the city superintendent. Steve Ellery is one of the council members.

The faces of the other council members, who were using Zoom, appeared simultaneously on screen.

The resolution was designed to comply with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order 2020-15 of March 15, which encouraged remote meetings to protect the health of city officials and the general public.

“This is the local codification of Governor’s Whitmer’s executive order,” said City Attorney Jim Downey.

The resolution authorizes members and the public to attend all meetings of public bodies by telephone or other electronic means.”

The virtual meetings must be posted at least 18 hours in advance by the city clerk on the homepage of the city’s website and in a visible location at city hall. The announcement must include an explanation of why the meeting is being held remotely. It must include contact information for all members of the public body along with how members of the public may contact them regarding the upcoming business. Members of the public may request that their comments about agenda items be read aloud at the meeting if a council member or the city clerk receives them before 5 p.m. on the day of the meeting.

The meeting announcement must include the dial-in conference number or other information about how the public may join the meeting. It must include information about how people with disabilities may attend the meeting.

If the meeting includes a public hearing, all relevant information must be posted on the homepage of the city’s website or as otherwise required by law.

Everybody must be able to talk to everybody else attending the meeting.

“The telephone or other electronic technology being used shall allow the members of the public body to communicate to any other member in attendance and any member of the public or staff attending and shall allow any member, any member of the public, or staff attending to communicate with any member attending,” according to the resolution.

All remote attendance will be treated like physical attendance for the purpose of establishing a quorum and for voting on items being considered by the body. All votes will be roll call votes, even motions to adjourn.

“For any closed session conducted under this policy, each member and authorized attendee of the closed session shall not allow anyone else to hear or view the closed session,” according to the resolution. “All members and authorized attendees of the closed session shall affirm, before the closed session begins, that they are in compliance with this subsection.”

The board members are forbidden from texting, emailing or otherwise electronically communicating among each other during public meetings.

Immediately after the meeting is called to order, the city clerk must confirm at the technology is working sufficiently to allow for participation of all, including the public.

“If the dial-in number or other means of conducting the meeting remotely is not working, the meeting shall be immediately adjourned by the chair without any decision or deliberation on any matter,” the resolution said.

The general public must be given the opportunity to speak during the public comment portion of the agenda.

In St. Clair, the mayor generally allows public comment on each item before the council.

“Is there any comment from the public?” asked Mayor Cedar about the resolution governing remote meetings.

“I don’t see any, your honor,” said City Clerk Annette Sturdy.

It was adopted without opposition.

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