With Ohio under a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, area councils and commissions have turned to technology in an effort to keep public meetings open to the public.

Canal Winchester City Council hopes to livestream its regularly scheduled meeting Monday, April 6, Mayor Mike Ebert said.

"Our IT department is working on a way to broadcast the meeting and have residents provide comments via email or another way," he said.

"Council will still meet at Town Hall, but we will have a minimal number of people there. We're going to try and limit it to the council and clerk."

Currently, Canal Winchester records audio from council and commission meetings and uploads it to the city's website, canalwinchesterohio.gov, where more information is available about city buildings and events closed to the public.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed COVID-19 response legislation March 27 that includes a provision allowing open meetings to be conducted electronically as long as the public is notified and can participate.

Logistics have varied from community to community, but one significant aspect is how residents provide feedback if a meeting is limited to remote access or a livestream.

For example, in Hilliard, residents were invited to watch the March 16 Hilliard City Council meeting being streamed live from the city's website. City leaders received public comments and questions during the meeting via email.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost provided guidance in a March 13 letter to school boards, city councils and other local legislative bodies on livestreaming public meetings during the public-health crisis. However, it was not an official legal opinion.

Yost encouraged public bodies to consult with their legal counsels.

Mark Weaver, a central Ohio attorney and expert on open meetings and public-records laws who helped write eight editions of Ohio's Sunshine Laws manual, said "reasonable steps" by a local government are key.

"Under the Open Meetings Act, the public must be allowed to attend public meetings in some form -- typically in person," Weaver said. "However, the Open Meetings Act has to be interpreted in accordance with the orders of the state health director, who is also acting under state law when she prohibits gatherings of a certain size."

Groveport City Council will continue to meet at the city's administration building, 655 Blacklick St., but with limited seating and social distancing practices in place, said Benjamin King, city administrator.

Council members can join meetings through video teleconferencing, as council members Jean Hilbert and Scott Lockett did for the March 23 meeting.

Groveport City Council's next meeting is April 13.

"We don't anticipate a crowd," King said. "For now, we're also trying to keep controversial issues or items that would draw many residents to the meeting off the agenda and stick to the basic business of the city."

A good example, King said, was the need to approve up to $560,000 in bonds for various city water system improvements at the March 23 meeting.

"This is something we had to get done," he said.

Madison Township trustees will hold their April 14 meeting via conference call, allowing the public to participate, township administrator Susan Brobst said.

The call-in number will be posted on the meeting announcement, Brobst said.

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