Municipalities Mull Meeting Cancellations In Wake Of Coronavirus
CT Post, Thursday, March 12, 2020
By Amanda Cuda
In the wake of at least one local government canceling nonessential meetings because of fears about the respiratory illness COVID-19, other towns and cities are trying to figure out the best way to proceed with town business in the middle of disease fears.
On Tuesday, Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti ordered all nonessential board and commission meetings canceled for the time being because of coronavirus fears. That included Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting, but the fate of other meetings hadn’t yet been determined.
So far, Cassetti’s decision appears to be an isolated move, but that could change given this “extraordinary situation,” said Kevin Maloney, spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “We are now gathering information to assist local leaders in developing model policies for local governments,” Maloney said in an email.
He added that local governments have the option to cancel a meeting during a “slow time,” (such as late summer) when there is no new business.
Also, Maloney said, there is a directive from Gov. Ned Lamont stating that there should be no meeting with 100 people or more. That could be a challenge moving forward, Maloney said.
“During the municipal budget season, especially in large suburbs and cities, you could have a meeting where the budget is being hotly debated and could attract a crowd, especially on the board of education side,” he said.
Reassessing Approach back to top
The Town of Fairfield also was reassessing its approach to meetings. On Wednesday, the town’s police commission canceled a meeting scheduled that day because of COVID-19 fears.
“We are looking at ways that would allow people to stay home,” she said.
Other towns hadn’t yet canceled meetings, but officials said they were definitely keeping an eye on the situation.
Norwalk, for example, has no immediate plans to cancel public meetings. However, the city is planning to hold upcoming public hearings on the budget in some of their larger venues, such as the concert hall in city hall, to make sure residents aren’t in tight quarters at meetings, officials said.
“We are encouraging people to keep an arm’s distance apart at meetings. We certainly expect a large turnout for the budget public hearings,” said Josh Morgan, a city spokesman.
The city is also encouraging people to submit public comments electronically.
“If folks don’t come out to a meeting, we certainly don’t want their voices to be silent,” Morgan said.
In Easton, First Selectman David Bindelglass said no meetings have been canceled but “we are monitoring the situation closely.”
He added that the town has canceled other events, including school concerts and assemblies, and gatherings at the senior center.
An official in Oxford also said meetings wouldn’t be canceled.
In Stamford, officials said they are advising organizations to postpone meetings or switch to teleconferencing if the meeting is considered nonvital.
Right now, the decision to cut back on group gatherings is mostly affecting meetings held on school grounds, like a weekly pottery club for example, a city spokesman said, but may end up affecting commission and board meetings in the near future.