2021 | Government

When will County Council, other governing bodies return to in-person meetings?

Many local governments have met virtually during pandemic

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The Montgomery County Council meets virtually on Nov. 16, 2021. Many local governments have been meeting via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other software, and will decide when to reconvene in person in the coming months.

Montgomery County Government screenshot via YouTube

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, multiple governing bodies countywide shifted from in-person meeting to the virtual spaces of Microsoft Teams, Zoom or other software.

Now, with vaccination rates continuing to climb countywide, elected officials are considering when to return to their physical spaces, versus holding meetings virtually.

Many officials said they are starting to have those discussions among elected representatives and the staff that helps operate the meetings, but they don’t have firm answers yet.

Here is where some governing bodies stand:

Montgomery County Council

Since March 2020, the County Council has been conducting its full council and committee meetings virtually. Earlier this year, County Council President Tom Hucker said the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus and construction delays in the council’s third-floor hearing room — used for full council meetings — meant in-person meetings would have to wait until the late fall or early winter. 

Sonya Healy, a spokeswoman for the County Council, wrote in a text message last week that construction was still occurring in that hearing room.

“The Council is awaiting the completion of the third-floor Council hearing room and will reassess returning to in-person Council meetings at [the] end of December,” Healy wrote.

Rockville

Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and City Council members have also been meeting virtually since around the beginning of the pandemic.

Currently, Newton and the council have been meeting in a hybrid format, with Newton working from the dais and council members participating virtually.

City Manager Rob DiSpirito said Newton and the City Council still need to discuss when they will return to hosting in-person meetings. It’s possible that the mayor and council will still meet in a hybrid format, but nothing has been formally proposed, DiSpirito added.

Multiple factors will likely be part of the discussion, he said. That includes the safety of everyone involved, along with the fact that the public comment portion of meetings is currently audio only, which presents some logistical challenges, he added.

“Often, people want to come and show us things, some visuals, and we can’t really accommodate that as well as in-person [testimony],” DiSpirito said. 

Gaithersburg

Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and City Council members are also currently meeting virtually. 

City Manager Tanisha Briley wrote in a text message that there is “no target date set” for the return to in-person meetings, and that Ashman and City Council members have not yet formally discussed it at a meeting.

“The factors that play a role in the decision making process include community transmission numbers, mask requirements, [and] adequate space to welcome the public and others,” Briley wrote. 

Takoma Park

Like Gaithersburg, Rockville and Montgomery County, Mayor Kate Stewart and Takoma Park City Council members are meeting virtually. 

Donna Wright, a spokeswoman for the city, wrote in an email that multiple factors contribute to when meetings will return in-person.

“We are hoping to return to in-person council meetings starting in January 2022,” Wright wrote. “However, with that said, we will closely monitor the transmissions rate, CDC guidelines and will make a final decision after the holidays.”

Montgomery County Board of Education

The Board of Education, after meeting virtually since around the beginning of the pandemic, met for the first time in person since then in late August.

Attendees can offer public comment in person or virtually. Masks are required when attending meetings. 

Montgomery County Planning Board

Like the Board of Education, the county’s Planning Board has also resumed in-person meetings, although more recently. That started this month

To attend meetings in person, attendees must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and show proof. Masks are also required.

Those testifying can do so at the meeting or virtually. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com