NEWBURYPORT — The City Council’s Committee on Remote Meetings recommended no changes to the council’s remote participation policy on Monday as the city continues to take protective measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, the City Council adopted an emergency rule to establish the remote participation policy, calling for all council meetings to be held remotely to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The policy was drafted by the council’s new Remote Participation Committee, an ad hoc committee created by council President Jared Eigerman to study, recommend, and help implement procedures for the council and its various committees to conduct meetings on an emergency basis using remote participation by members, city staff, and the public consistent with recent orders given by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The committee consists of Eigerman, Councilor at large Bruce Vogel and Ward 1 Councilor Sharif Zeid. City Clerk Richard Jones is a nonvoting member.
During a meeting Monday afternoon via the digital conference call application Zoom, the Remote Participation Committee unanimously voted not to recommend that the full council make any changes to the remote participation policy.
Under the order, members of the public may provide comment in writing to the city clerk on matters on the agenda, and the clerk will read the first two minutes of each statement provided. The public may also call into the meeting to participate remotely.
The order also includes a recommendation from the council that all meetings between the city’s other boards and commissions be canceled, with the sole exception of public hearings that must be held to avoid “deemed approval” of an application under state law.
The Remote Participation Committee’s virtual meeting lasted only about 10 minutes Monday and saw all three of the committee’s voting members agree that the remote participation policy should remain as is for the time being.
Eigerman said he feels Baker’s order, which will be effective today, “represents a tightening” of restrictions to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. He implied that because of this, it is not time for the city to begin returning to its normal meeting schedule.
“The (remote meetings) policy is in place and it’s fine,” Eigerman said. Zied and Vogel concurred.
Eigerman said he recently talked to Planning Director Andy Port, who clarified that no important matters would be decided on during remotely held Planning Board meetings, and that the board will be continuing matters to a later date.
In response to a question about statutory deadlines for zoning and planning matters from local resident Stephanie Niketic, Eigerman noted that state officials are working on a bill to extend those deadlines during the coronavirus shutdowns.
The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for March 30 at 2:30 p.m.