The coronavirus outbreak has forced Tennessee’s local elected officials to relocate their regularly scheduled meetings from their official council chambers, where many of them would otherwise have to sit within six feet of each other.
Elected officials, who rarely conduct government business anywhere else, now hold their meetings in cyberspace.
Per one of Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s executive orders for this current emergency, the state’s governing bodies “should be able to meet electronically regarding essential business.”
This, provided those governing bodies “provide electronic access to the public and reasonable safeguards to ensure transparency.”
Knoxville City Council member Tommy Smith told The Tennessee Star Wednesday that he and his colleagues used Zoom video conferencing Tuesday night for their previously scheduled meeting. Members of the public could either watch online or on local community television.
And most city council members were either at home or in their personal offices while they voted on or discussed official city business, Smith said.
“Other than the obvious of not seeing one another across the room, I was impressed with how smooth it went. The only noticeable difference for me, other than not being there in person, was the need for roll call votes for every matter,” Smith said.
“It really went off without a hitch. City administrators did a great job in advance with practice runs and testing. City council members also met a day before to make sure all the technology worked at their homes.”
Elected officials in other counties, meanwhile, experiment with different techniques, according to The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government’s website.
Hickman County Commissioners, for instance, held their previously scheduled Monday night meeting in person. But commissioners posted a live feed video of the proceedings to their official Facebook page and, the next morning, on their website, according to the TCOG.
“Folks spent a lot of time getting the feed up and working right,” Mayor Mark Bentley told the TCOG.“If we have problems, we ask that you give us some mercy.”
One day, however, when the coronavirus is no longer a pandemic, county commissioners and city council members will return to their old chambers.
Smith believes elected officials will not make a habit out of meeting electronically.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but my thought is it will go back to the old way, which is better when you’re trying to communicate, especially when you’re talking about issues that affect people’s lives and you’re making decisions for the city,” Smith told The Star. “They are always best in person.”
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