Meg Hibbert Contributing writer
Three days before Gov. Ralph Northam enacted the statewide “stay at home” order, Salem City Council passed an emergency measure to allow the entire council to meet electronically, if necessary, so long as the public has a way to be notified and included.
In Council Chambers at the called meeting the morning of March 27, Council voted unanimously to pass the emergency ordinance that can be used during a disaster, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The ordinance also covers meetings of the School Board, Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Planning Commission, Economic Development Authority and other city bodies.
At the called meeting, the nine people who attended and were spread out around Council Chambers were Councilmembers, City staff, Counsel Steve Yost and one reporter – which happened to be under the maximum of 10 the governor mandated.
Earlier last week at a regular meeting, Council passed an ordinance that allowed up to two members to participate in regular Council meetings remotely for health reasons or a personal matter.
City Manager Jay Taliaferro pointed out the emergency ordinance “allows a total electronic meeting where you all could discuss day to day matters, with a quorum of three.” He added that “We may never need this…It’s another way to allow you to do meetings electronically.”
Council still has to do provide sufficient notice (at least three days), advertise the meeting and take electronic comments from the public. And, Taliaferro noted, the ordinance allows electronic meetings but does not require the city to do them.
Taliaferro mentioned a few other jurisdictions have used Zoom and other media to hold meetings. He said the City would send out a Zoom link and put a link on the City’s website for citizens to access.
Friday’s meeting lasted 12 minutes.