Sherwood uses distancing time to figure out remote meetings
During normal times, a visit to a City Council meeting is a great civics lesson.
But during the coronavirus pandemic, City Council meetings are taking on a new feel. Virtual council meetings have become the norm, and in Sherwood, city officials have been adapting to this new technology.
"We're not unique to any other city," Joe Gall, city manager, said. "When we started this whole process before the governor gave her executive order, we started with council meetings that had just a few members of council physically in the room. ... That was kind of the first phase. At that time, we did not use the platform that we are using now, which is Microsoft Teams."
In April, the council transitioned to virtual meetings.
"The governor gave us guidance, per Oregon public meetings law, that we could go virtual," Gall said. "And all that means is now all public meetings (not just City Council meetings) in Oregon can be virtual, and people do not have to be physically present in a room."
Council members log into their computer, then log into a Teams meeting to deliberate and conduct their business.
"We broadcast that Teams meeting on our YouTube channel and public access channel, which is what we normally do to broadcast council meetings," he said. "People can, basically, listen as the council conducts its business."
Gall said, "What I foresee happening, as we come out of this, we will go back to what we were doing prior to the governor's executive order, by maybe, having two or three councilors six feet apart in council chambers."
Other councilors might attend by video conference, as they do now. Some staff would also be present in the council chambers, with social distancing measures in place.
"That's all done in compliance with the governor's order," Gall said.
Sherwood City Council President Tim Rosener said virtual meetings can be effective.
"Our last council meeting was great because even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to start to get normal business done, which was great," Rosener said. "I think they're effective, but a lot of that has to do with the relationships we have with each other as council members."
Speaking of this technological change, Rosener said, "I have always been a big supporter of making sure that the city is constantly working on ways to engage the community in a way that's compatible with their busy lifestyles. I think it's great in terms of someone at home could be involved. On the other hand, I still think it's important we get back to in-person meetings (at some point) because there are a lot of people that don't have access to that technology."
Councilor Sean Garland agrees that City Council meetings can work virtually.
"I think it's been working well," Garland said. "I think most of us have a pretty good amount of experience using technology, especially in this day and age. I work for the Oregon Health Authority and I've been working from home exclusively, since, I think, March 13. I've been very fortunate to be able to continue to telework from home."
Virtual council meetings are not without their moments.
"We have had little hiccups here and there, in terms of getting things to operate properly," Gall said.
"They're (virtual meetings) just not the same, because you have 10 people in a virtual meeting," Gall said. "It's a little bit less efficient because people can talk on top of each other. It's better than nothing, so to speak, and we're all adjusting to that — some better than others."
Gall is confident city business can proceed during the pandemic, using technology.
"We've been doing this for weeks now," Gall said. "The biggest adjustment for our organization — and we're not unique — is that most of our staff is working remotely."
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