The Florida Constitution and Sunshine laws require local governments to meet in person, but – due to the pandemic – Governor Ron DeSantis suspended that mandate to allow cities to hold virtual public meetings through Nov. 1st of this year.
Some local city commissions are now moving to re-opening their meetings to the public. West Palm Beach has returned to in-person meetings with officials on the dais spaced apart and shielded from one another by clear plastic dividers; the reporter’s station at the foot of the stage has a shield; and some of the public seating rows are off limits to encourage social distancing.
There had been concern that going virtual would impact interest in city commission and town council meetings, especially among those new to the technologies, but some cities have seen the opposite as being true and engagement has increased. In the village of Tequesta in Palm Beach County, online video streams of council meetings have proven popular and will likely continue.
“We recognize that when we were doing the Zoom meetings… we had far more people zooming in than we had in chambers,” Mayor Abby Brennan said.
Some cities have started using a “hybrid” model, with council members in the regular meeting sites, and the public and speakers joining via WebEx. In Boca Raton and Riviera Beach, the councils have moved to larger venues that allow for better social distancing.
“There are many things to consider in order to ensure the safety of participants,” City of Delray Beach spokesperson, Gina Carter, said, “including wellness screenings, sanitation of shared items such as sign-in sheets/pens, mics and podiums, the effective and safe use of the space within the commission chambers…. as well as preparing for the technological challenges.”