The Winona City Council has declared a special emergency that will allow meetings held by the city council and other city boards and commissions to be conducted electronically.
This is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is forcing establishments that host large gatherings of people to reconsider how they operate.
According to the resolution passed by the Winona City Council Monday evening, meetings may now be held by phone or other electronic means in an effort to protect the public health and safety of city personnel and the public.
The special emergency will continue until the state of emergency for Minnesota has been terminated, according to the resolution.
The resolution also says the city may enter into contracts and incur obligations to combat COVID-19, as well as provide emergency assistance.
Winona city attorney Chris Hood said these types of resolutions are being passed across the state in response to COVID-19.
“A number of cities are declaring emergencies to … ratify the actions of city administration and doing what (they) need to do to manage employees and try to protect the health and safety of the public,” Hood said. “As things seem to be getting more serious, I think this is the direction most cities are likely going to go.”
Hood mentioned that this does not eliminate the public’s ability to partake in public meetings, but is being done to protect their health and safety, and that methods for public interaction are being discussed, such as through the city’s website, doing livestreams that can be commented on or the web-based conferencing tool Zoom.
Councilman Paul Schollmeier requested that the public be understanding during the pandemic and that the city is not trying to limit participation in democracy.
“This is really a serious attempt to make this a safe opportunity for us to continue operating as a democracy,” Schollmeier said. “Please be patient as we work through this and try to get to this (to be) accommodating for everyone.”
In the event that a meeting is to be held electronically, there are various conditions that must be met in accordance with Minnesota Statute 13D.021:
“A presiding officer, chief legal counsel or chief administrative officer must determine that an in-person meeting is not practical;
“All members of the participating body, no matter their physical location, must be able to hear one another;
“Members of the public present at the regular meeting can hear all discussion and votes by the body, unless presence at the regular meeting location is determined to be impractical;
“At least one member of the hosting body is to be physically present at the regular meeting location, unless determined impractical;
“All votes are to be conducted by roll call to ensure each member’s vote is identified and recorded.”
The statute also states that a meeting body shall allow a person to monitor the meeting electronically from a remote location, but may incur a charge for the additional connection, and a notice must be given should a meeting be held electronically.
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