Scio Township will continue to meet remotely

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Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

For now, Scio Township’s boards and committees will continue to meet remotely.

However, as it looks ahead to times when meeting in-person is back to normal, it will still offer the online, remote option to the public.

Township supervisor Will Hathaway told The Sun Times News in follow up the township board’s meetings on March 23 and 25 that they chose to continue meeting remotely, using Zoom.

He said this is made possible because Washtenaw County has declared a state of emergency due to the COVID pandemic through December 2021. If the county changes the state of emergency, Hathaway said then they would revisit the plan for meetings.

In her report to the township board for the March 23 meeting, township clerk Jessica Flintoft said the Board of Trustees, all its committees and commissions, and the Downtown Development Authority are subject to the Michigan Open Meetings Act (OMA).

Flintoft said the OMA was amended last fall to permit public meetings to be held virtually, with certain procedures set forth to ensure access to the public. The OMA permits virtual meetings without conditions, through March 31, 2021.

Her report stated, “From April 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021, the statute allows virtual meetings only in certain circumstances. On March 17, 2021 the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners adopted Resolution 21-050 DECLARING A LOCAL STATE OF EMERGENCY WITHIN WASHTENAW COUNTY AS OF MARCH 17, 2021 TO CONTINUE THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 2021 DUE TO THE SUSTAINED PRESENCE OF COVID-19. This resolution appears to meet the definition of one of the reasons virtual accommodation of members may be made per MCL 15.263 Sec. 3 (2) "...a local state of emergency or state of disaster declared pursuant to law or charter or local ordinance by the governor or a local official, governing body, or chief administrative officer that would risk the personal health or safety of members or the public or the public body if the meeting were held in person."

If and/or when this state of emergency is changed and meeting in public is required for the township boards and commissions, Hathaway said the online option will remain in place for the public because the township recently installed new technology in the meeting hall that will allow people to connect with in-person meetings remotely.

“When we do resume meeting in the meeting hall, members of the public will be able to continue connecting to the meeting online,” said Hathaway.

According to Flintoft, the barrier for the public to participate remotely for in-person meetings had been the lack of investment by local government in the technology necessary to permit and encourage remote participation from the public.

“Even before the pandemic, larger local governments were moving toward expanding public participation through remote and virtual participation,” Flintoft said in her report. “Ongoing, there will be members of our community who will not be able to safely attend meetings in person. Because providing a virtual option for public participation ongoing is a priority, the Board of Trustees authorized retrofitting to Meeting Hall so that the Township could hold hybrid meetings--where some people may attend in-person, and others remotely.”

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