Government employees and elected officials of cities throughout Utah County are figuring out how to perform their daily duties while practicing social distancing to keep the public safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
One question with which city governments have had to grapple is how they should handle city council and planning commission meetings, which are traditionally held in-person and are open to the public.
Rather than cancel or postpone meetings, Lehi Assistant City Administrator Cameron Boyle said the city decided to hold its public meetings electronically, with each commissioner and council member participating remotely.
Other cities are taking similar measures. Mapleton City Councilwoman Jessica Egbert said the next city council meeting, which is scheduled to take place Wednesday, will be held as a teleconference.
According to Scott Darrington, city administrator of Pleasant Grove, the city decided on Thursday that it will hold council and planning commission meetings electronically and that city officials would participate remotely.
Darrington added the meetings would have an “anchor location” and that up to 10 residents would be able to watch the streamed meeting in person in the city council chambers.
“They’re planning to go as usual, except they will be mostly electronic,” Darrington said.
Spanish Fork began holding meetings electronically earlier this week, according to Public Information Officer Scott Aylett, which are broadcast on YouTube and Facebook Live.
Springville, which had canceled its most recent City Council and Planning Commission meetings, will hold upcoming meetings electronically, according to Rod Oldroyd, administrative services manager.
Not every city is transitioning exclusively to remotely held public meetings. Highland will continue to hold in-person meetings that are open to the public, said Erin Wells, assistant city administrator, who added that some city officials would participate electronically and that the meetings would be streamed on YouTube.
“And we’re encouraging everyone to participate that way,” Wells said.
Utah County Commission announced Monday that weekly commission meetings would continue to stream on YouTube and that public comment would be available through dial-in information listed on the county website.
Commissioner Tanner Ainge was the only commission member physically present in Thursday’s commission meeting as commissioners Nathan Ivie and Bill Lee participated by phone.
Some cities, including Orem, Lehi and Spanish Fork, already live-streamed their public meetings long before the coronavirus pandemic. But for other cities, like Highland, it is a new process.
“This is a new thing for us,” Wells said. “We haven’t done it previous to this.”
Cities are experimenting with various ways to allow for public comment during meetings that are held electronically.
Cliff Strachan, executive director of the Provo Municipal Council, said members of the public who want to make a comment during a meeting can do so by calling a phone number provided by the city.
Meanwhile, Orem, which is holding its meetings electronically, set up a website and email for residents who want to submit a comment, according to Steven Downs, the city spokesman.
Wells said Highland is working on a way to “add a voice element” so the public can make comments to the council directly.
“Because right now, if you’re participating electronically, the only way for the public to make a comment is by either emailing it to us ahead of time or typing it in the comment section of YouTube,” said Wells.
Highland City Hall will remain open during the pandemic through a dropbox service for residents who need to submit documents to the city.
“So they can come into the office and we can facilitate that, but we really are encouraging them to do everything online instead,” Wells said.
Boyle said Lehi City Hall will also remain open but that the majority of city employees are working from home and residents are encouraged to conduct businesses online or by phone “unless absolutely necessary.”
Darrington emphasized that Pleasant Grove will continue offering all public services during the pandemic, with the exception of the Pleasant Grove Recreation Center being closed indefinitely and the city library being limited to a drive-up service.
“We just want people to know that we’re still functioning,” Darrington said. “We still are offering our services.”