COVID-19 presents challenges for public meetings


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While COVID-19 has shut down many functions, government is not one of them.

Essential services in the city of Grand Rapids continue operating.

“There’s no playbook,” says Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “It is all uncharted, untested waters that we’re navigating together.”

Bliss says her priorities are looking at today, next week, next month and beyond.

“I’m looking at what we need to do right now to respond. And then what do we need to do to start thinking about an aggressive recovery,” the mayor said during a virtual interview with News 8.

But ensuring transparency at city hall may soon take on a new look. The law requires city commissioners and other elected officials to hold most votes in open meetings that include public participation.

But coronavirus led to the cancellation of next Tuesday’s city commission meeting.

“Going four weeks without a meeting, we’re going to have a number of key things on our agenda,” Bllis said. “We also have to make a number of key decisions about our upcoming budget.”

“As if right now, we are still planning to meet on (April) 14th. It will either be virtually, or we’ll do it with significant distance,” Bliss said.

And when it comes to governmental bodies looking for ways to hold virtual meetings, Grand Rapids is not alone.

Kent County commissioners recently experimented with web-based meetings. All 19 commissioners met Thursday in virtual form, complete with public input.

Bliss says virtual meetings are one option, depending on how long the governor’s stay-at-home order continues.

“We’ll wait to hear what the governor’s orders are,” Bliss said.

In the meantime, the mayor has a message for residents worried about COVID-19.

“We are here to support you in any way that we can. And we have an incredible community to do that.” Bliss said. “And we are going to get through it together.”

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