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Williamsport city council returns to remote-only meetings amid COVID spike

City Council will begin to hold virtual meetings starting 7 p.m. Sept. 9 due to an increase in COVID-19 infection rates in Lycoming County, which is at a high rate.

Council President Randall J. Allison decided on the remote meetings on what he said he hoped was a temporary basis.

“I believe we should return to Zoom meetings,” he said. “They are public. They are accessible. For some people they are even more accessible than having to come here publicly.”

A resolution was first approved giving that authority.

It was based on the increase of the positive COVID-19 infection rate in the county and on the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention and the city’s medical director’s recommendation to advise wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

It was a decision rooted in a prior resolution passed Oct. 22, 2020, stating council will meet in Trade and Transit Centre II, 144 W. Third St., third floor “to in-person and/or remote” at 7 p.m.

Due to the unpredictability of events and circumstances that can affect council’s ability to conduct in-person meetings, council exercised its option to conduct meetings in person or remote at the discretion of council president or in his/her absence, council vice president as needed.

Allison said the virtual meetings provide full accessibility to the public via computer, telephone and television on YouTube.

An abundance of caution

“There is an uptick in our county of infection,” Allison said. “There have been concerns raised by some of the council and also I am sure by some of the staff concerned about that.”

He referred back to the resolution approved last October. When Council set its meeting schedule for the entire year it passed a resolution with the option of going to Zoom (remote) or meeting in person.

Council exercised that option and went to meeting remotely and using Zoom on YouTube.

Earlier this year council exercised the option to go to in-person meetings.

What was voted on Monday was to put the mechanism in place to use those options in a “cleaner” way, Allison said.

Rather than having to organize a meeting to change the procedure, in the event it is needed the council can exercise the option at the discretion of the president or vice president as needed.

He noted the unpredictability of life.

“We have a pandemic,” Allison said. “We have a physical problem with our facilities at City Hall, where it has constrained everything that we do on the administrative side.”

The building remains condemned and unhealthy to work in due to mold spores detected from significant water damage because the roof leaked during July thunderstorms. Following air quality test done by a third-party company and upon receiving preliminary results showing levels of mold, mildew and possibly asbestos and radon to be determined and because of the interconnected air ventilation duct work Mayor Derek Slaughter ordered relocation of City Hall workers on a temporary basis while it is decided by council and the administration what to do with the building.

“So that is still fluid somewhat,” Allison said. “Everyone has not moved out yet. I believe codes is still there. They are going to relocate.”

Meanwhile, he said, “there are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up, nothing major, I don’t think, but for the administration and city departments to move efficiently there is still work to be done.”

Another slate of unpredictability that Council Vice President Liz Miele added to the list was based on council being seven members and relying on the technological assistance from the administration.

“We have the possibility of enough people being ill or absent and not having enough for a quorum for a meeting, or not being able to televise the meeting,

“Life has been unpredictable for a while,” Miele said. “I think it is a wise option to have.”

Nobody else on council weighed in.

The vote was 5-0 by Allison, Miele, Bonnie Katz, Dave Banks and Vince Pulizzi. Jon Mackey and Adam Yoder were absent.

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