Hilliard City Council will conduct its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, March 23, remotely with council members livestreaming from their residences via an online service, according to David Ball, the city’s director of communications.
The city will stream the meeting live on its Facebook page at facebook.com/HilliardGov to allow for public participation, Ball said.
The decision is related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has brought sweeping action statewide in an effort to contain the spread of the disease.
“We believe this is the best possible approach to continuing the important work of Hilliard’s municipal government while respecting social distancing and being transparent to the public,” said council President Andy Teater. “By streaming the meeting on Facebook live, it gives interested people the opportunity to ask appropriate questions and give their elected officials feedback into the decision-making process.”
The meeting will be streamed live on Facebook and not through the city’s standard system at hilliardoh.iqm2.com/citizens/default.aspx, but it will be uploaded there within a few days after the meeting, Ball said.
Emailed comments and questions are requested in advance, if possible, to email@example.com.
The agenda is available at hilliardoh.iqm2.com/citizens/default.aspx.
Residents also may ask questions or offer opinions on the Facebook feed during the meeting, Ball said. Council will be provided with relevant comments and questions at the appropriate times, he said.
Hilliard is among the many of Ohio government bodies responding to directives from Gov. Mike DeWine about how to control the spread of the coronavirus.
On March 13, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost wrote to elected officials that in keeping with DeWine’s state order prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people, “we are now presented with a situation in which a public body might not be able to comply with both the terms of the order and the Open Meetings Act. Stopping the business of government is not an option, and we must now reconcile the two.”
Yost’s letter offered guidance and not an official legal position, according to Dave O’Neil, Yost’s senior public-information officer. Public bodies should consult with their legal counsels, O’Neil said.
Yost wrote that local officials might meet in a telephone conference or virtual call, but the public must be able to hear all discussions and deliberations, and if any officials’ connection is dropped, the meeting must be suspended until it is restored.
“It is reasonable to read the OMA’s ‘in-person’ requirement as permitting a member of the public body to appear at a public meeting via teleconference,” Yost wrote.
All other requirements of the OMA be fulfilled, he said, and a quorum must still be present, whether in person, on the phone, or in some combination thereof.
Hilliard City Manager Michelle Crandall said “this is new territory for the city.”
“We appreciate the community’s patience as we try this experiment in public engagement,” she said. “As with many challenges created by social distancing, this is not ideal, but it ensures transparency and the opportunity for public participation, which is crucial to effective government.”