Grand Rapids commission launches virtual meetings

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids city commissioners returned to a public forum Tuesday night — a virtual public forum.

Commissioners held their first regular city commission meeting, complete with phone-in public participation. The meetings was available through webex.com, and people could view it on Comcast Channel 26, Facebook and YouTube. A handful of citizens called in to give their take.

Afterward, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss told News 8 it went smoothly and was well organized.

Though the city is focused on addressing the pandemic, the majority of the meeting and public comments were not related to the COVID-19 response. 

“We’re really focused on responding as quickly as possible to the needs of COVID-19, we still have a lot of day-to-day operations here at the city that we need to work through,” Bliss said. “We need to be prepared that as some of the current restrictions start to phase out, we’re able to hit the ground running with infrastructure projects and a whole host of other priorities in the city.”

Earlier Tuesday, commissioners held their regular work session, outlined some of the financial help available to those hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the public can participate in regular commission meetings as the stay at home executive order continues.

Bliss noted to participants logged in on the virtual Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday morning that this is a new process. 

“So if you are joining us and watching us online, give us a little bit of grace and patience,” Bliss said. 

Once the morning session got underway, commissioners were updated on the city’s response to the pandemic, like a new outreach program for the homeless population through the police and fire departments.  

There was also talk about business recovery efforts. Coronavirus has severely impacted both retailers and manufacturers. No less than 15 organizations, led by the city, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Right Place formed the COVIDWM business coalition to provide both relief and recovery information for businesses.

Local relief will be vital. Businesses who haven’t already been able to collect a portion of the original $350 billion federal stimulus package are probably out of luck.

“Our local banks stood up, but most of them now have shut down the application process because the money is pretty much gone,” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place Inc. 

City commissioners can’t do business without public input, especially at meetings. That’s why residents are now allowed to dial in to add their voices to the conversation during future regular commission meetings.  

“The rules are still the same. We’re still trying to make this the same as any commission meeting as possible,” said City Clerk Joel Hondorp, explaining the rules for the public dial-ins. “Please refrain from any profanity, the calling of names, using derogatory slurs or anything like that.” 

—News 8’s Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.

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