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Local governments to try holding meetings remotely

HOUGHTON — With the state barring large gatherings over COVID-19 concerns, local bodies of government are trying out holding their regular meetings through new means. 

In an executive order March 18, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed governments to hold meetings via telephone or videoconferencing, while also allowing ways for the public to participate remotely. 

The order continues through April 15. 

The Calumet Village Council was scheduled to hold is first electronic meeting Tuesday night, using the program GoToMeeting. President Dave Geisler said the council’s only planned action item is approving the bills. Although the meeting starts at 5:30 p.m., the virtual feed will open at 5:10 p.m., so people can try to fix any technical issues beforehand. 

“We’ll be able to see each other,” Geisler said. “You’re also able to dial in on your phone. We’re going to have to do a roll call, because the only record will be audio.”

Because there will be no video record, all votes, including whether to adjourn, will be done by roll call, Geisler said. 

The village debated muting the public during non-comment periods, but thought people might not be able to signal they want to speak, Geisler said. 

“Right now, I think we’re just going to keep it open and just ask people to be careful not to speak over people,” Geisler said. 

The Houghton City Council released details Tuesday of its upcoming meeting, which is 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. 

The meeting will be held over Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/306103965. The meeting ID is 306 103 965. Members of the public will be able to comment during the comment period on the agenda. 

People can also dial in at 1-929-205-6099. For one-tap mobile access, use 19292056099,,306103965#. 

The agenda is available at cityofhoughton.com, under Council and Commissions – Searchable Document Center. Notably, several ordinances retailing to potentially allowing recreational marijuana retail in the city are being postponed. 

Houghton still plans to vote on bids for phase two of wastewater and sewer improvements, as well as a quit-claim deed transferring ownership of a vacated parcel of land. 

Calumet was able to postpone most of its pressing business for the March meeting, but April’s meeting will need to have a full agenda, Geisler said. 

“This is a one-time deal that’s good for 28 days, and we don’t know what the state will ultimately decide,” he said. “This is an emergency measure put in place because people are nervous about meetings. It’s a small space, and to get six feet apart is not that easy.”

Had the state not allowed virtual meetings, the council would have met in the upstairs ballroom, where there is more space. 

When the ability to have normal meetings is restored, the village might continue doing making remote access available for people who can not attend the meeting, Geisler said. 

The Michigan Municipal League offered tutorials remotely on Friday for governments curious about the process. Representatives from more than 800 governmental bodies across the state signed in, Geisler said. 

“Hopefully it’ll go smoothly, and then we’ll start talking about what we’re going to do in April,” Geisler said of Calumet’s Tuesday meeting. “This is kind of uncharted territory for everybody. And I hope my cats don’t make too much noise in the background.”

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