OGDEN — After two consecutive cancelations of its regular weekly meetings, the Ogden City Council will be back in session next week — but in a form that hasn't ever been seen.
The council's March 31 meeting will be held completely electronically, with members of the board participating remotely, in a video conference setting. Ogden and many other cities are relying on technology to help them push the wheels of municipal government forward as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. On Tuesday, the Ogden council held its first ever all-electronic work session, with all seven members participating remotely, along with several members of the city administration and council staff.
Council Executive Director Janene Eller-Smith said the council will continue to accept public input as meetings are held. Comments can be submitted by phone, by calling 801-629-8158; by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or through a public comment submission form that can be found at ogdencity.com/publicinput. Council agendas and informational packets on agenda items are typically available on the council's website a few days prior to the body's 6 p.m. Tuesday meetings.
For public hearings, the council is also working on options for real-time comments, via a video conferencing system, but residents are encouraged to submit comments prior to the start of the hearings.
With the logistical problems that could come with the new meeting format, the council discussed holding meetings less frequently and including an expanded agenda. But all members of the council seem to think it's prudent to continue with weekly meetings.
"I'd rather do it every week and make them smaller and more manageable," said Councilman Bart Blair.
With budget season coming up, the council figures to be in for some long nights, part of the reason Blair and the others desire weekly meetings.
Council Chair Angela Choberka and others discussed concerns about the new temporary council format disenfranchising certain groups of Ogden residents, particularly low-income members of the community with no internet access. The council says it will actively pursue feedback on how to avoid such issues but the feeling is there probably won't be any way around it.
"It is (going to disenfranchise people)," said Councilwoman Marcia White. "I don't know how else to say it...but I don't know how to do it any other way."
Council meetings will be streamed live on Facebook and Youtube.
A press release from the Utah League of Cities and Towns indicates the majority of mid-sized and large Utah cities are now conducting city council meetings electronically, with some smaller cities and towns jumping on board as well. The transition was made easier after Gov. Gary Herbert’s executive order on March 18 that temporarily modified certain Open and Public Meetings Act requirements.