BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
After months of online meetings for City of the Village of Clarkston business, including city council meetings, the plan is to get back to in-person meetings.
As with many situations in the COVID-19 society, there are still restrictions.
“Regarding in-person meetings, our goal is to have a hybrid of in-person and on-the-phone (or internet) participation,” said Clarkston City Manager Jonathan Smith. “To fulfil the requirements of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, we must ensure that all persons – whether in-person or on the phone – be able to communicate seamlessly, as though they were all in the same room.”
For now, there is a 10-person limit set forth by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders, which for the city, means Mayor Eric Haven, six council members (Al Avery, Ed Bonser, Gary Casey, Jason Kneisc, Joe Luginski, and Sue Wylie), Smith, Clerk Jennifer Speagle, and City Attorney Tom Ryan are the 10 individuals that can attend.
“While the 10-person inside meeting limitation is in effect, we are going to have to implement a procedure whereby residents that wish to attend in-person make an appointment in advance,” said Smith. “To ensure that both in-person and on-the-phone participants can communicate seamlessly, I am being advised that I will need a large-screen TV for video as well as a microphone/speaker device for audio installed in the conference room.
“The next step will be to obtain cost estimates for the needed hardware – with three bids required – that I can take to City Council for approval. I would estimate 4-6 weeks to obtain estimates, gain council approval, and install the equipment, so it will likely be early November before we are ready to resume in-person meetings. While this may feel like a lot of effort and expense for a temporary need, having this expanded communication technology installed in our new conference room will be beneficial even after COVID is behind us.”
The proposed hybrid solution will be used for all city meetings, including council, planning commission, historic district commission, zoning board of appeals, and even committee meetings.
To date, the online meetings have been challenging for the city, but officials have been able to tackle those obstacles over time.
“The primary challenge with virtual meetings has been getting people familiar with the process of connecting to the meeting and the practice of keeping your computer or phone on mute until you need to speak,” Smith said. “People who use the virtual meeting technology in their job are already familiar, but people new to the process commonly underestimate the sensitivity of their microphone. Background noise such as a fan, dishwasher, barking dog, etcetera, can be very disruptive.
“But slowly, meeting by meeting, we’ve been having fewer and fewer issues.”