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.
Greg Bellan, the president of Twinsburg City Council, said that city council meetings have been recorded and uploaded to the city’s YouTube channel for several years now. He added that there have been discussions on livestreaming the meetings.
"Challenges that I'd anticipate revolve around my duties as Council President in terms of running the meeting," Bellan said. "I'm sure we'll be able to get through it just fine, but we'll all have to make sure to not talk over one another in a virtual environment and I'll need to go out of my way to ensure that folks are 'recognized' prior to speaking so that all involved can hear and see them. Furthermore, in order to comply with Sunshine laws we'll need to have a public component as well - live streaming, as I understand it, would satisfy this requirement but we'd also like to give the public an opportunity to participate which I believe we have a solution for."
The meetings are now taking place on the Zoom video conferencing platform, with meeting archives available via a YouTube link on the city website.
Robert Kagler, the administrator for Twinsburg Township, said that the township currently makes video recordings of its meetings, and was in the process of looking into livestreaming "since the middle of last year."
"The only challenges encountered have involved hardware and software, and we believe that we have overcome all challenges," Kagler said. "The remote provision seems reasonable and logical for the current situation, and its use in the future will most likely be limited to similar emergency situations, with the last similar emergency situation having occurred 100-plus years ago."
Trustee meetings are generally the third Wednesday of the month. The most recent regular meeting is broadcast on Time Warner Cable Channel 1023 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. There is also a link on the township website. The next scheduled meeting is May 13.
Superintendent Kathryn Powers said that the Twinsburg Board of Education meetings are recorded on video and posted on YouTube, including the school board’s first virtual meeting April 15. A link is available on the district website.
The meeting was hosted by way of a Google Meet and members of the public were provided a link to be able to view the meeting in real-time.
"As with any new initiative, there will be a learning curve," Powers said. "Each board member has worked with our Technology Supervisor Matt McGing to ensure that they have connectivity to the Google Meet platform."
Mark Curtis, Twinsburg Board of Education president, said that the school board will "plan to hold future meetings virtually during this period of school closure for the safety and well-being of our staff and board members."
"I wouldn't anticipate this being a long-term endeavor as public meetings were truly meant to allow the public to experience things in person," Curtis said. "More importantly, we want to make sure we are able to continue recognizing our amazing staff and students during our regular board meetings."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC