By Dedra Cordle
Confusion still reigns in the village of Urbancrest over how public meetings will be held in the current era of COVID-19.
On Feb. 9, the village council was scheduled to hold its regular meeting but only two members of council were in attendance. It marked the second time in as many months a legislative session was not able to be held due to the lack of a quorum.
But just because four of the six members were not in attendance – several were excused due to medical or personal reasons – does not mean the village officials did not address the confusion swirling over public meetings versus virtual meetings.
At its meeting in December, the council approved a resolution which allowed the body to conduct its legislative sessions in a virtual format in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. The resolution was done in accordance with legislation approved by the state.
In the weeks that followed, however, Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. said he discovered that the legislation had several issues related to the body of the text and the desired technical specifications related to the contract with web hosting service Cisco Webex.
“The legislation passed in December had issues within it which puts me into a position where I cannot implement it because the packages listed in the legislation were crossover,” he said on Feb. 9.
When councilwoman Deborah Larkins-Jackson asked him to explain what “crossover” meant, he said he was referring to the variety of monthly or annual financial plans listed on the Cisco Webex website and how the council did not clarify which package they wanted to implement.
“This is public money, not private money, that is being used and it has to have the proper documentation behind it,” Barnes said.
He reiterated that he is not opposed to holding meetings in a virtual format but did say that he was worried having them completely virtual would freeze members of the community out of legislative happenings.
“I don’t have a problem with virtual meetings but I do have a problem with shutting the public out because people don’t have the equipment to tune into that meeting,” he said.
Barnes proposed that future meetings be held in a hybrid format, rather than a 100 percent virtual format, as a way to keep the public involved and lessen any health concerns the council may have related to the spread of COVID-19.
Council members Larkins-Jackson and Nikky Ziglar-Zimmerman said they found that to be an agreeable solution but there was one pressing matter at hand – the rest of the council has to convene in person in order to clarify and approve the revised legislation.
Law Director Rodd Lawrence suggested that Barnes, code enforcement officer/village IT official Randall Bogue and councilwoman Alicia Wiggins, who crafted the legislation in December, meet to go over the text and then call an emergency meeting where it could be voted upon by the council.
“To get this issue straightened out, I wouldn’t think it should take longer than a couple days,” he said.
He added that the council needs to meet soon because there are “urgent matters” that need to be addressed.