Suspended Council Meetings Could Resume Remotely

 City Council President Rosa DiFlorio has suspended Council meetings until April 27, mirroring the school district’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. But meetings could resume sooner thanks to a statewide emergency order allowing local governments to conduct business remotely.

The administration of Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced on March 12 an emergency order modifying the state’s Open Meeting Law. Generally, a certain number of members must be physically present to hold a meeting – known as a quorum. The order dispenses with this requirement, allowing some or all members to attend remotely. 

“Low-cost telephone, social media and other internet-based technologies are currently available that will permit the convening of a public body through virtual means,” the order states.

The order is in keeping with the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) to “socially isolate” to reduce the risk of exposure to the disease. This advice is especially crucial to individuals over 60 (almost half of the City Council) or with compromised immune systems.

Governments must also provide the public with real-time access to remote meetings. Those that are financially unable to do so may post meeting contents online afterward in the form of a recording or transcript.

The Everett City Clerk’s office is researching the possibility of virtual meetings.

“We don’t want to put people at risk, so we’ll see how we can do it remotely,” City Clerk Sergio Cornelio told Independent. “We’re all on board and ready to keep moving forward.”

“The safety of our residents and my colleagues is our main priority,” said Councilor Anthony DiPierro. “The whole situation remains fluid and I defer to President DiFlorio and Clerk Cornelio on how we will proceed.”

“I can do whatever is necessary and will remain flexible,” said Councilor Jimmy Tri Le.

“I have faith that Clerk Cornelio and Council President DiFlorio will work collaboratively and quickly to get our government running,” said Councilor Michael McLaughlin. “We have an obligation to work together to put public safety first.”

“It is a very difficult time for everyone right now,” said Councilor Fred Capone. “We need to do what we can to minimize the spread of the virus.”

“The emergency precautions adopted by the City and state continue to become stricter,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Martins. “I have the ability and the tools to meet remotely, and am open to online meetings during this period.”

“I would be open to virtual meetings. I can do this from my home,” said Councilor Gerly Adrien. “In times like now, we should be utilizing technology to deliver to our constituents.”

However, some councilors questioned how practical it was to expect the body to meet remotely, citing the fact that not all members have reliable internet access or the prerequisite technological acumen. Another concern was how residents would be able to participate in virtual meetings, something that other governments around the Commonwealth are currently exploring.

There is at least one piece of business that needs to be addressed prior to April 27 – the list of department heads the mayor is seeking to confirm. The piece was on the agenda at the last Council meeting on March 9, but the body voted to postpone the vote until résumés for appointees could be provided by the administration.

“I want to make sure the Mayor’s appointments do not go through without the résumé review,” said Councilor Adrien.

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