The Grand Ledge City Council will vote to determine the platform for their next two scheduled meetings on Nov. 23 and Dec. 14 thanks to an amendment to the state law that requires local government meetings to be held in public.
The council on Oct. 26 voted to hold its next meeting via Zoom video conference. City officials say they plan to regularly evaluate whether to hold council meetings in person, and the council will vote to set the meeting format at least one meeting in advance.
Local governments are allowed to hold their meetings via online platforms under a change to the Open Meetings Act signed into law by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Oct. 16. Public bodies can now conduct electronic meetings with remote participation for any reason through the end of 2020. After Jan. 1, 2021, all meetings will be in a hybrid format.
Council member Brett Gillespie said electronic meetings have gone well so far and he likes having the option to conduct meetings virtually. The council meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month and has held those meetings remotely from April 1 to Oct. 12.
“Having the option really democratizes the meetings,” Gillespie said. “Anyone can come to a public meeting as it is, but now people can do it from the comfort of their home, at least temporarily. If a council member is feeling ill and doesn’t feel comfortable going to a meeting then they can still participate in the meeting virtually.”
Grand Ledge City Manager Adam Smith said he thinks there is higher public attendance with virtual meetings.
“Participation is no longer limited to physical location,” Smith said. “I believe that hybrid meetings will offer the greatest level of participation for elected and appointed officials and the public alike.”
Council member Rick Lantz said he agrees virtual meetings are beneficial in some aspects, however, he is worried about the people who are unable to participate in meetings virtually.
“My one concern would be for the residents that are not technologically savvy or don’t have the proper equipment to participate electronically,” Lantz said. “It’s a disadvantage that perhaps limits the ability of certain residents to participate in these meetings. We might be missing out on attendance from a certain segment of the population.”
Gillespie said that regardless of how the meeting is conducted, it’s most important that the city council hears from residents.
“Local government affects people way more than any other level of government,” Gillespie said. “The national government especially national elections get sexy headlines, but local governments are really what drives each and every day for our families and our neighborhoods.”