Laurel officials were hoping to return to town hall council chambers for the July 20 meeting of Mayor and Council, but government health restrictions did not progress enough to allow it.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 health crisis, Laurel officials have joined other public bodies in holding required public meetings through virtual communications. Mayor and Council members have been holding monthly public meetings through the “Zoom Meetings” program.
The Mayor and Council as well as members of the public have been able to attend the Monday meetings from the convenience of their home computers while adhering to state emergency social distancing requirements.
As Governor John Carney has started to lift some of the shelter down restrictions, town manager Jamie Smith announced during the June 1 meeting that Zoom meetings were soon to end. However, Governor Carney has stipulated that during the current phase of re-opening in-person public meetings can be held with proper social distancing and the use of masks. However, it would also be necessary to provide a virtual option for those citizens who were not comfortable with attending the public meetings during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Smith said she was investigating virtual opportunities, but in talking to those municipal governments who have been using them, they can be very expensive. “We have to make sure we also have the necessary technology in the council chambers to support virtual meetings. I am looking into all of this,” she said.
Councilman Jeff Hill cautioned that given the recent opening of the Delaware State Fair, there is a fear that the COVID-19 outbreaks may very well spike. “I think shortly after the fair opens we may begin seeing a spike in the number of cases. Everybody needs to be cautious,” he said.
Councilwoman Cheryl Martin, who has a family member at home recuperating from an illness, said given Councilman Hill’s concerns, she wanted to make it clear she would not be attending Council meetings in person.
Mayor John Shwed said the state restrictions that require the virtual meeting option in addition to the in-person council meetings “is a pain in the butt.” He said given that it does not look certain that Governor will lift restrictions enough to allow council meetings to resume in a traditional manner in the near future, he advises that the town continue to utilize Zoom Meetings, at least through August.
The council members all agreed that it would be the most cautious way to proceed with the monthly meetings.