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Longboat Key Thursday, Apr. 29, 2021 5 months ago

Longboat Key to continue hybrid meetings until summer

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As long as there is a physical quorum, commissioners can use Zoom to watch and participate in commission meetings through June 26.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The Longboat Key Town Commission can continue using a hybrid approach for its meetings until the early summer thanks to the governor’s office.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis extended Florida’s state of emergency for another 60 days because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Town Commission must continue to fulfill a physical quorum with at least four commissioners present. It means up to three of them can vote and participate using Zoom through June 26, which is when DeSantis’ executive order expires again.

“Our commissioners are generally back [meeting in person], so it has [a] minimal impact from a commissioner standpoint,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said.

Still, Harmer said the town had awaited the governor’s decision.

“That allows us to continue the flexibility that we have had for our meeting format,” he said. “We're really looking at trying to keep this flexibility, at least again for the next two months, and I would say maybe a little longer depending on what the governor does.”

Town leaders were unsure whether DeSantis would allow for Florida municipalities to continue using virtual technology to operate.

“Having that flexibility is helpful for us right now with everything going on,” Harmer said.

Harmer said the town would consider continuing to use Zoom even after the pandemic, specifically for participation among the public and presenters.

“I think the flexibility of public participation is obviously a big deal,” Harmer said. "We always livestreamed the meetings, but this allows for a two-way participation.”

Using Zoom also allows presenters to speak before the Town Commission without having to physically drive to Town Hall.

“There’s a cost savings to that if the town doesn’t have to pay them to drive here and be here in person,” Harmer said. “And so, we’ve tried to carefully and thoughtfully think about doing those remotely when it makes sense.”

The town does not track the amount of money it typically spends for speakers to present before the Town Commission, according to Harmer. He said varies depending on the consultant or contractor agreement. Some agreements have a lump sum whereas others are hourly plus expenses. 

In April 2020, the town began using Zoom for Town Commission and the Planning and Zoning Board meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a little bit of a learning curve on how to properly use Zoom early on.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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