Governments holding their meetings live via Internet

Local officials are turning to technology as a way to keep themselves and the public safe from the spread of Covid-19 while also maintaining transparency and public access as required under state law.

The councils, boards and commissions in Salisbury, Fruitland, Delmar and Wicomico County are now either live streaming meetings or using teleconferencing to hold meetings, with members and the public able to access them from home.

“I believe it’s the only way to do it,” said Salisbury City Council President Jack Heath, who chaired a council meeting via teleconferencing for the first time on April 4. “It worked very well,” he said.

In Fruitland, the Board of Zoning Appeals was the first to use teleconferencing at its meeting last week, said City Clerk Raye Ellen Thomas. The City Council will use it for the first time at its April 14 meeting.

“We did a practice run with the City Council and it went well,” she said. “It’s a whole new world.”

The town commissioners of Delmar also plans to use teleconferencing for their April 13 meeting, according to the town website.

Maryland’s Open Meetings Act requires many state and local public bodies to hold their meetings in public, to give the public adequate notice of those meetings, and to allow the public to inspect meetings minutes, according to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

“The current state of emergency raises questions for public bodies on how to meet in compliance with the Open Meetings Act when public gatherings are discouraged, and, in some cases, buildings are closed,” the Attorney General’s Office said on its website.

The state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board has determined that teleconferencing is permitted so long as the public can listen in, but the chair may set ground rules, including asking the public to mute the call on their end to avoid interruptions.

The Salisbury City Council and the Wicomico County Council already live stream their meetings on PAC14 and YouTube, but they will now both use teleconferencing so members and the public can take part in the meeting from home by calling the telephone number shown on the meeting agenda and entering the meeting ID number.

The agendas for the meetings are posted in advance on the city and county websites.

The public may listen to the meetings by calling the telephone number shown on the meeting agenda and entering the meeting ID number.

The Wicomico County Council also has established a process for submitting public comments in advance to Council Administrator Laura Hurley at lhurley@wicomicocounty.org or mail them to the Council Office at PO Box 870, Salisbury, MD 21803.

All public comments received one hour prior to the County Council meeting will be read into the record at the meeting. Public comments must include your name and county of residence, and a telephone number is suggested so that you may be contacted if discussion is desired by the council or county executive, county officials said in a news release.

Because of time constraints, lengthy comments may not be read in their entirety, and residents are asked to limit comments to no more than 150 words.

Do not leave public comments by voicemail or deliver them to the Government Office Building, county officials said.

The County Council and the municipalities plan to resume their normal meetings when the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted and government offices are reopened to the public.

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