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Elkins testing software for online meetings

ELKINS — On Tuesday, the City of Elkins tested tele-communication software in preparation for hosting city council and committee meetings virtually to practice social distancing in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday’s test consisted of a panel discussion including Mayor Van Broughton, City Clerk Jessica Sutton,

Treasurer Tracy Judy and Sutton Stokes, external affairs specialist for the city, each of them taking part from a different location. The officials used the Zoom platform to connect online.

Though there was no video of the discussion, when each individual spoke, his or her name appeared on the screen.

This week will feature two virtual city meetings. The Finance Committee will host a meeting today at 9 a.m., and a special meeting for Elkins City Council will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday evening.

The audience connecting to watch the city’s virtual meetings will be muted for the duration of the meeting and will not be able to communicate with city officials during the event.

Public comments during these meetings will be accepted via call or email to the city clerk’s office at least 30 minutes prior to the meeting. Those comments will be read during the meeting.

Stokes said using the Zoom software to speak with officials during the meetings might have presented difficulties for residents.

“There’s this problem of how (the citizens) let you know they want to talk,” Stokes told The Inter-Mountain Tuesday. “We were worried people might not get that right and would think they were being ignored so (the) solution would be to have people submit comments in advance of the meeting.”

Comments should still be limited to five minutes or less in compliance with previously set council rules. The phone number for the city clerk’s office is 304-636-1414, extension 1211. The email address to send public comment to is jsutton@cityofelkinswv.com.

The meeting codes and agendas will be posted on the City of Elkins website prior to the meeting and can be found at cityofelkinswv.com/login.

“Starting with the mayor’s declaration of a city-wide emergency last week, the first step that we felt was necessary to take was to cancel (meetings) because the recommendations we were hearing were to avoid gathering in groups of any size,” Stokes said Tuesday.

“We have a 10-person council and at least six staff members that need to be able to participate in council meetings, so we just felt like that immediately needed to be paused,” he said. “At the same time, given the structure of the Elkins government, we were really uncomfortable with the idea of going very long without council, the governing body, being able to meet in a way that complies with open meeting laws.”

City Council and staff members in City Hall began discussing options for virtually hosting the meetings to keep citizens safe and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

After deciding for various reasons not to use YouTube or Facebook streaming services, Zoom was chosen due to the fact that viewers can dial in using either a computer or a phone.

“We just felt like that would give the most people the ability to be (present) in a meeting,” Stokes said. “It looks like it’s going to meet the basic needs.

“I think there’s a good chance that it won’t be pretty the first couple of times and we just hope people will understand.”

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