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How area governments are and can conduct public meetings amid coronavirus threat
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The Hall County Planning Commission considers a large subdivision in South Hall on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. - photo by Jeff Gill

Public meetings have taken on a new meaning in this era of COVID-19.

Governments are scrambling to decide how to conduct business while keeping elected officials and residents safe and well.

On Thursday, March 19, Flowery Branch pulled Georgia’s Open Meetings Act of 2012 to allow for a teleconference “under circumstances necessitated by emergency conditions.” Such a meeting is OK as long as “means are afforded for the public to have simultaneous access,” according to the law.

Technical difficulties on the provider’s end prevented the meeting from happening, and the meeting has been postponed to 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 24.

Moving forward, the city is canceling its April 2 meeting “as we have no items to consider and we will make a decision on the April 16 meeting as things progress,” City Clerk Melissa McCain said last week.

Gainesville’s next work session is set for April 16 and its next voting meeting is April 21.

That scheduling “gives city administration and council time to discuss how to best proceed,” city spokeswoman Christina Santee said.

“We’re evaluating our options that would help keep our council and city personnel in good health. Their well-being is a priority, as is the health of those in the community who attend our meetings.”

If they don’t cancel or postpone meetings, other city boards and committees “are taking advantage of/considering telework opportunities in place of regularly scheduled meetings,” Santee said.

“At this time, city personnel are trying their best to practice guidelines set forth by the CDC to protect themselves and others, including the public,” she said.

The Hall County Planning Commission held its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, March 16, in the Board of Commissioners meeting room, with officials at the meeting spaced farther apart than usual.

And “chairs in the audience were also spaced out 6 feet apart,” Hall spokeswoman Katie Crumley said.

But then, at a special called meeting March 19, the Hall County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution responding to the novel coronavirus, closing the Hall County Government Center to the public until Friday, April 3.

A commission work session set for Monday, March 23, and a voting meeting set for Thursday, March 26, have been canceled.

Oakwood “is not proposing any variation to our public meetings,” City Manager B.R. White said last week. “We remain fluid and will take everything one day at a time.”

He did say the city is exploring other meeting options, such as Facebook Live, teleconferencing and other live streaming, “while still meeting the requirements of the Open Meetings (Act).”

The next Oakwood City Council meeting is set for April 13.

Braselton has moved its planning commission meeting to the end of April.

“We have not yet made a decision on April (Town Council) meetings, but so far we only have one resolution on the agenda,” Town Manager Jennifer Scott said. “So, if we don’t have any more to discuss, we probably will not have the meeting.”

Buford City Manager Bryan Kerlin said the next Buford City Commission meeting is scheduled for April 6.

“The city will continue monitoring events and recommendations from the health officials regarding public meetings and assess the need for any changes,” he said.

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