With the coronavirus pandemic limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer, local government boards say they are making changes to the way their meetings are held.
Last Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order allowing these boards to meet by videoconference, teleconference or other electronic means through May 31 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The executive order came after the White House Coronavirus Task Force issued guidance limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer through March 31.
Virgil Harden, chief financial officer for Grand Island Public Schools, said the GIPS Board of Education plans to hold a virtual meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday to pass a resolution declaring a state of emergency and to allow Superintendent Tawana Grover to give an update on how the district is responding to COVID-19.
According to the legal notice published in The Independent, at least one board member will be physically located at the Kneale Administration Building, 123 S. Webb Road, and the meeting will be open to the public. The meeting may be accessed by anyone at zoom.us/j/166923510.
“We will have it up here in the board room, so up to 10 people from the public can come look at it here in the board room. It will be on a first come, first served basis,” Harden said. “But anyone who has internet can click on and view the meeting. It will be a very short meeting with two topics.”
Despite GIPS issuing a notice last week that the Kneale Administration Building is closed to the public, Harden said the public is welcome to attend the meeting in person, but the meeting areas will be limited to 10 people each. He added that multiple areas of the building will be used if attendance exceeds 10.
Harden said that while no final decision has been made, he thinks it is likely that all other future GIPS board meetings will be held virtually until the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
“No decisions have been made and no conversations have happened at this point other than this one meeting at this point in time,” he said. “We have to do the highest and best to keep everybody healthy and safe. But we also absolutely want to have total transparency and engagement with the public and the media, so we want to make sure we do everything we can.”
Grand Island City Clerk RaNae Edwards said the City Council has a meeting Tuesday. She said the plan, as of Thursday afternoon, is to keep the meeting on GITV, the city’s public access channel, and have the council meet in council chambers.
“All the council members will be spread out,” Edwards said. “We will have maybe three council members on one side of the mayor (Roger Steele), three other members on one side, two down where the three statutory officers sit, and two at a table underneath the screen, just so we have that social distancing.”
Edwards said another option is to have the meeting downstairs at City Hall in the community meeting room, but the meeting would not be able to be televised on GITV.
“We are also looking into the virtual meeting,” she said. “Right now, IT is involved in that and looking at what can be done. It would be more difficult and I am not sure how the public would be a part of that meeting. That is why we like the council chambers option best.”
Edwards said the public would be able to attend the City Council meetings and speak at the public hearings, but that people would be advised to keep a 6-foot distance and not to sit together.
Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Pam Lancaster said a decision for the board to hold virtual meetings has not yet been made. However, she plans to explore the option of allowing each board member to call in to the meeting.
“We will meet again on March 31 because we have two bid openings that need to take place that we already planned for,” Lancaster said. “We do not really have the capability of having a virtual meeting. I am trying to figure all that out with our IT department to see if it could possibly be done.”
She added: “We are just exploring some of the opportunities right now. I do not know what the opportunities are, but with the approval of the board, I am very grateful. I can explore those opportunities and make those decisions.”
Lancaster said that anyone who wants to attend the county board meetings is welcome, but that during the coronavirus crisis, unless individuals have business before the board, they are asked to watch the meetings online.
The recordings are typically posted a few hours after the meetings and can be viewed at bit.ly/398G4T1.
Meetings this week are:
— Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education, 5:30 p.m. Monday. Agenda items include passing a resolution declaring an emergency due to COVID-19 and an update on the district’s pandemic plan. The Zoom meeting can be accessed online at https://zoom.us/j/166923510/.
— The Grand Island City Council, 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. Agenda items include a public hearing and consideration of a redevelopment plan for the former Nebraska Veterans Home property, and consideration of a conditional-use permit request from Hooker Brothers Sand and Gravel for a sand and gravel operation at 3895 S. Locust St.