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Elkins ponders return to in-person meetings

ELKINS — Elected officials in the city of Elkins said they want to begin taking steps to return to holding in-person meetings, which were changed to virtual meetings online starting in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elkins City Council decided to possibly have in-person committee meetings in September, but each committee chair will decide to attend in-person or online virtually.

“It is my personal sense … that the committees need to meet regularly if there a way within the appropriate guidelines for safety in this situation,” Councilman David Parker, Fourth Ward, said during the most recent virtual meeting of Elkins City Council. “We could have the committees meet and/or the council meet and still observe the guidelines and not take the chance with each other and ourselves. I think it would be a good thing and I say that as someone who is going through and has been through, just recently, a couple of situations where I have had family members exposed.”

Parker, who requested the discussion be placed on the council meeting agenda, said he is aware of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, but believes council needs to have more interaction.

“I don’t want to be careless, but at the same time, I think the more real interaction we can have safely, the better,” he said.

Councilman Charlie Friddle, Second Ward, said when council previously discussed returning to in-person meetings in June, council was told an upgrade to the sound system in council chambers was needed to broadcast the meeting virtually, he said.

“It seems to me that we have had a discussion repeatedly about the possibility of hosting in-person council meetings and the hold-up was some kind of a piece of equipment that would allow the public to hear us on our microphones,” Friddle said. “We were assured that the piece of equipment was going to be here any day and that was well over a month ago.”

Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton said the necessary software was installed in council chambers around two weeks ago.

“I am having a hard time wrestling with there are a lot of city councils that are meeting in person throughout the state. We seem to be on the tail end of that,” Friddle said. “I think it is taking away from the effectiveness of city council in a very big way and I think we need to move as quickly as possible to do whatever is necessary to get city council and the committees meeting in person again as soon as possible.”

Elkins Mayor Van Broughton asked council if they would like to begin having committee meetings in person and Friddle and Hinchman both responded yes.

“I am for moving as quickly as we can to in-person meetings,” Councilman Rob Chenoweth, First Ward, added.

Sutton suggested council begin with the smaller three-person committee meetings before moving to have full council meetings in person. She recommended beginning with committee meetings scheduled for September.

“In the number of council members, administrative officers and the press, we come close to having 20 individuals present already,” she said of city council meetings. “You have to make the meetings accessible to the public, whether that is in person or the virtual platform, there has be accessibility.”

Councilwoman Karen Wilmoth, Fourth Ward, asked if the in-person committee meetings would still be broadcast for the public online and if council members could still attend that way if they didn’t feel comfortable meeting face-to-face.

Sutton said the meetings could be broadcast online, but council should come to a consensus and either have council members attend all in-person or all virtually. Chenoweth suggested leaving the decision up to each committee chair to make the decision based on how the committee members wish to attend.

Sutton said the committee chair should let her know which members would want to meet in-person.

She said only committee members should be physically present and other council members attend via the virtual access. Sutton added that the chair should also limit the length of the meetings to reduce possible exposure.

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