Hudson City Council resumes in-person meetings with limited public attendance

Government meetings are exempt from state's mass gathering restriction; City allowing 12 members of the public to attend, masks required

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Hudson City Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) speaks during council's meeting on Sept. 22. This was the first time in six months that council hosted an in-person session in Town Hall.

HUDSON — City Council has resumed hosting in-person meetings at City Hall.

Council on Sept. 22 had its first in-person session since March when the COVID-19 pandemic greatly restricted public gatherings. Council had been hosting virtual meetings that were livestreamed. City spokesperson Jody Roberts said council meetings have been livestreamed for "a number of years," and will continue to be shown through that medium.

Melanie Amato, press secretary for Ohio Department of Health, said council and other government meetings are exempt from Gov. Mike DeWine's order that limits mass gatherings to 10 people because they are "a First Amendment/governmental function."

Roberts added that the city decided to allow a maximum of 12 members of the public to attend. Limiting the attendance to that number allows the city to maintain "the 6-foot social distancing protocol which we feel is necessary to ensure the safety of council, staff and attendees," Roberts said.

All attendees are required to wear masks, according to Roberts.

Legislators and administrative staff in the Sept. 22 workshop meeting wore masks and observed other public health protocols such as social distancing. Council does not take any official action during a workshop. An additional table was set up to allow council members to be spaced out more than in their typical setup.

Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) said the "socially distanced table layout did a good job of spreading us out," and added it was nice to have additional space for notebooks and binders. Sutton noted it will take some time to become accustomed to speaking with a mask on.

"I need to speak a little louder for the mics to pick me up, and I need to find a mask that doesn't move around so much while I speak," said Sutton, who added he was seated at an extra table at the far edge of one end of the semicircle of tables.

"For the other councilors to hear me, I did have to turn myself toward the center [and] away from the residents," he said. "Hopefully those in attendance didn't think that was rude."

Council member Chris Foster (Ward 2) said he felt the "most helpful" aspect of meeting in-person is that more discussion occurs among legislators.

"In [the virtual meeting], you pause, [you] don't know if someone else will say something, [and] often times leave things unsaid because you don't want to delay an already lengthy and clunky meeting format," stated Foster.

Hudson City Council President Bill Wooldredge (At-Large) speaks during a council meeting in Town Hall Sept. 22. This was council's first in-person meeting in six months. Council has been meeting virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foster also expressed concerns about executive sessions being conducted in the virtual format.

"Executive sessions are for those people who need to know," said Foster. "If the meeting is virtual, you have no idea who else is 'in the room' listening to the discussion. ​Zoom meetings only show the camera's view."

Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said he thought the workshop meeting on Sept. 22 "went well" and noted that, with the exception of Oct. 6, council will continue having in-person sessions in Town Hall. Council will have a virtual meeting on Oct. 6 because staff will be installing new audio equipment in Town Hall. Council's next in-person meeting is Oct. 13.

Roberts said once the new audio equipment is installed, the city will be able to "offer hybrid meetings, both in person and by Zoom for those who don’t want to attend in person."  Livestreaming of meetings would also continue.

There were two members of the public in attendance at the Sept. 22 meeting and Roberts said low attendance is typically the case at a workshop because "there isn’t a public comment section" on workshop agendas.

Sutton said he was not certain if the low level of public attendance was "because the agenda didn't look interesting, or people aren't comfortable joining us, or some other reason."

He noted a lot of residents told him that they've watched livestreams of council's virtual meetings during the last six months. Although meetings were livestreamed before the pandemic, Sutton said he believed residents "discovered how convenient [the livestreams] are" after they were "forced to use them."

Sutton emphasized he was speculating on why there was such small attendance at the meeting and noted he had not heard specific feedback from residents on that issue.

How members of the public can register to attend

Members of the public who wish to attend should register in advance to reserve a seat. To register, send an email to CouncilComments@hudson.oh.us by 4:30 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Public comments are not part of regular workshop sessions. For regular council meetings, where public comments are permitted, individuals who wish to speak should reserve their seat in advance by sending an email to CouncilComments@hudson.oh.us by 4:30 p.m. on the meeting date. The email should indicate that they wish to speak. Any seats remaining after speakers have registered, will be filled through advanced registration too. If individuals wish to attend and not speak, they should indicate that on the registration email. Walk-ins will be permitted for any open seats remaining after the registration process has closed. Seat reservations will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Seats will be reserved for those who want to speak first, followed by those who want to attend. Attendees should arrive early. Reserved seats not occupied by the start of any meeting may be freed up for walk-ins. 

Livestreams of the meetings can be viewed at www.hudson.oh.us/WatchMeetings.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.