The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to work from home, especially after the state issued a stay-at-home order.
However, the efforts to control the spread of the novel coronavirus has made the day-to-day workings of public agencies a challenge. One instance concerns meetings of government bodies such as councils, trustees and school boards. Before the pandemic, members of these boards had to be physically present to speak and vote on the issues before them. Having a physical meeting can make maintaining social distancing daunting.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s signing of HB 197 on March 27 included several provisions, including allowing members of governing bodies to meet remotely through Dec. 1. As a result, several governing boards have either taken to livestreaming their meetings from remote locations, or are at least discussing the possibility.
Todd Nichols, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools, said the school board livestreamed its last two meeting in March and April. Nichols said the main challenge is public participation.
Nichols said that in the April 15 meeting, four members met in person at the high school library, and one member met through Google Meets. The board’s next scheduled meeting is May 6, which, as of now, is after the stay at home order is scheduled to be lifted, but he added that the governor’s order for people to stay at home could be extended. As a result, the school board may either meet like they did in the last meeting, or have all the school board members meet remotely through a platform such as Google Meets.
"Stay tuned," Nichols said. "Things are changing rapidly these days."
The school board published a link to the YouTube livestream a few days before the meeting, in case residents wished to watch, Nichols said. A link to the livestream also was posted on the school website, at www.cfalls.summit.k12.oh.us/. Residents who wished to address the board were unable to ask questions during the meeting itself, but could send questions or concerns to email@example.com.
"We didn’t get any last night, but that is how we are attempting to address public participation," Nichols said.
Woodridge Superintendent Walter Davis said that "will be live streamed during the period of time that the schools are closed." Typically, The Woodridge Board of Education meets the third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Woodridge High School library during the school year. The school board meets at the administrative building, which is across the street from the high school, during the summer.
The next meeting is scheduled for April 21.
Before the remote meetings, a link will be posted on the district website to enable viewing of the meeting using the district YouTube channel, Davis said.
"The board has chosen to suspend its by-law that allows for public participation during board meetings during this period," Davis said. "However, questions are always welcome through email to the superintendent or treasurer prior to or after the meetings. The live stream video is retained by the district and is left on the website until the minutes from the meeting have been posted. Then, the video is removed. The minutes serve as the official record of proceedings." Meeting minutes and agendas can be found at www.woodridge.k12.oh.us/, on the Board of Education page, Davis said.
City, Village changes
Cuyahoga Falls has thus far turned to radio to broadcast meetings in realtime.
Council meetings are being broadcast on 96.1 WCFI FM Radio Station. An online link is at https://wcfi.radio12345.com.
City spokesperson Kelli Crawford-Smith said last week the city is "currently looking at ways in which we can utilize technology for remote access to public meetings."
"Our first priority is the health and well-being of both our employees and the public-at-large," Crawford-Smith said. "Internally, we have been using teleconferences and video conferencing and are looking at ways we can utilize that technology for public meetings."
One challenge is allowing the public to see the meetings as well, said Crawford-Smith.
"We are trying to find the most effective way for the public to be able to access the meetings and provide an opportunity for public comments in the most efficient ways possible," she said.
Members of the public wishing to submit a public comment to Council may do so by submitting their comments to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or via regular mail at 2310 Second Street, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio 44221, Attention: Council. Comments received at least 12 hours before the Council meeting will be read into the record during the Council meeting.
Silver Lake Mayor Bernie Hovey said that the village council would do meetings remotely; its April 6 meeting was done by teleconferencing. However, he added there were no plans to take and publish video of its meetings. Though the April 20 council meeting is canceled, information on how to log into future meetings will be posted on meeting agendas, which are posted on the village website. To participate, residents should dial 978-990-5000, and enter access code 172169.
"They get to participate just like a normal meeting," said Sean Housley, village clerk treasurer.
"Our biggest challenge is to continue to provide our residents with the services they’ve come to know and expect," Hovey said. "We have our police department and a list of volunteers ready to help others who ask for assistance; such assistance being things like picking up medicine, delivering groceries, etc."
While Village Hall is closed to the public, village workers are still on the job, although with precautions, he said.
"Service department workers and police officers and administrative employees are kept separate from each other, making communication between departments less personal and somewhat more challenging," he added.
"Closing Village Hall has made it more difficult for our residents to operate as they usually do. As a small community, many people stop by every day, often to pay utility bills, but just as often, to talk with me and other staff members. We miss that. Also, closing all Village facilities – the building, the tennis courts, the basketball courts, the playground – have caused many residents to alter their plans for recreation and leisure."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC