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Longboat Key Monday, May 31, 2021 1 month ago

Town Commission could continue Zoom use after pandemic ends

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The Town Commission has used Zoom in some capacity since April 2020.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments all over the world to become accustomed to using virtual technology.

As long as a physical quorum is met, the Longboat Key Town Commission is considering allowing commissioners to use virtual technology such as Zoom to participate in meetings rather than miss a meeting. The potential changes would take effect after the state of emergency ends due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which could come in late June.

“With the technology now, I think it’s important to have everybody participate as much as they can, so to put artificial parameters around that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me at this point,” District 2 Commissioner Penny Gold said.

For Town Commission meetings, a physical quorum means a majority of commissioners are physically present inside the chambers of Town Hall. A physical quorum is required for governing bodies as part of Longboat Key’s Town Code and state law.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to decide by June 26 whether to extend Florida’s state of emergency. The governor has allowed local governments to use virtual technology, regardless of quorums, to operate since the pandemic took hold in March 2020.

Nov. 2, 2020, marked the first in-person meeting for the Longboat Key Town Commission since March 23, 2020. The town began using a hybrid approach in November 2020 with some commissioners meeting in person and others using Zoom to participate virtually.

All seven commissioners typically attend meetings since each of them has received their COVID-19 vaccinations. However, there have been times some of them have used Zoom when they’ve been out of town.

At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop advocated for the town to adopt a policy that would allow for commissioners to have the flexibility for maximum participation.

In October 2013, the Town Commission passed a resolution that restricts virtual commissioner participation under normal circumstances. On Tuesday, Town Manager Tom Harmer mentioned how the commission believed the technology didn’t exist in 2013 to allow for virtual participation among commissioners and the public.

“The commissioners back then were saying at some point in the future, the future commission will need to talk about this because technology is going to advance,” Harmer said.

Town attorney Maggie Mooney mentioned how the town will need to find some parameters if it moves forward with allowing commissioners to participate virtually. 

“We also have to protect against abuse, and I’m not implying that any one of you would ever abuse it,” Mooney told commissioners. “Please don’t misunderstand me.

“I’m always amazed at how dedicated all of the commissioners and Planning and Zoning Board members are in this town, but I do think that there should be some sort of backstop that protects against abuse.”

During Tuesday’s workshop meeting, commissioners came to a consensus to have Mooney prepare a formal ordinance that would allow for virtual participation.

“Will anyone be here to vote on it?” Mayor Ken Schneier joked.

 

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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