Exeter council hangs up Zoom calls for now

With the state of emergency declaration ending this February, the Exeter City Council is no longer obligated to continue offering virtual meeting options through Zoom

EXETER – During the pandemic, council members were allowed to attend meetings remotely, but this February the virtual attendance option is coming to an end for Exeter City Council.

Before the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, city council members were required to attend meetings in person, and if they missed multiple meetings they could be removed. In person meetings are just around the corner, as the state of emergency teleconferencing option is ending in late February. The council did have the option to extend the virtual meeting option if they wanted, but Mayor Frankie Alves was in favor of scrapping it altogether due to the technical difficulties that can often plague city staff at meetings. Though teleconferencing via Zoom will be eliminated for any attendee or council member, residents will still be able to access a livestream on the city’s Facebook page. 

“I personally feel that we should just go ahead and do away with the remote teleconference,” Alves said. “All of us meet here in person like we are tonight, [and] live streaming on Facebook, like we have been doing. Then, the public can be here in person as well.”

City manager Adam Ennis said that in the case of another state emergency, the council would easily be able to roll back into a teleconferencing option. The virtual meeting option is available to be reenacted for reasons that are even outside the realm of COVID-19, according to city attorney Julia Lew. Any type of disaster or safety reason could allow for council to bring back the teleconference option up until January 2024. However, this binds the council to virtual meetings in the same way as in-person meetings, according to Ennis.

“If our system goes down, the meeting has to stop until you get the system back up and going,” Ennis said. “Let’s say we run into technical difficulties and we can’t get [the meeting] going again, then that meeting is off for the night.”

The council agreed that allowing for a livestream helps improve accessibility to meetings for residents who are unable to come in person. This will not be an option for council members, as they will still be required to attend in-person. Livestreaming on Facebook takes a load off of city staff as well, since it is not as involved as Zoom, according to Ennis.

“You almost need two people trying to do these meetings with remote attendees,” Ennis said. “It gets messy trying to keep the notes that they have to keep for clerking, also trying to pay attention to people raising their hands, or who’s muted and who’s unmuted. We just missed a lot of things going on.”

The last meeting that will be live streamed via Zoom will take place on Feb. 28.

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