KALAMAZOO (WOOD) — Sixteen months after moving to virtual meetings, the Kalamazoo City Commission has delayed a vote to return to in-person meetings.
Deputy City Manager Jeff Chamberlain laid out plans for commissioners and the public to return to City Commission Chambers for the July 19 meeting. The plan would keep some virtual aspects that have been implemented over the past year. Public comment would still be allowed by calling in and streaming on Public Media Network, Facebook and YouTube will continue.
“As we’ve been looking at how to go back to in-person meetings, it became very clear that doing completely Zoom type meetings is actually fairly easy overall,” Chamberlain told the commission. “If we’re at a completely 100% in person like we used to before COVID, that’s doable. But if we want to go somewhere hybrid, there’s a lot of different ways to do that. So, we’ve been looking at what would be the best way for Kalamazoo given the circumstances given we find ourselves in.
Commissioner Jack Urban brought up concerns about the “Zoom bombing” that happened to the City Commission during one of their first Virtual meetings in April 2020.
Attorney Clyde told the commission that has been considered but, “Profane language in and of itself is not a reason for throwing someone out of a meeting.”
Chamberlain says live call intakes less staff which is why city staff is suggesting they go that route instead of continuing with prerecorded commenting that has been used during the virtual meetings.
“If you want to save taxpayer dollars, behave yourself when you talk to the public through this medium,” Urban added to the conversation.
Commissioners were concerned about large crowds crowded into the commission chambers.
Commissioner Chris Praedel asked how the city keeps people safe in those situations.
“How do you make sure not only do we … keep everyone safe in that large of a condensed setting but (also) how do we make sure every single person that walks in that door has an opportunity to make sure their voice is heard in some way or another,” Pradel asked. “It’s not a matter of if it’s a matter of when that is going to happen again. You know, potentially in the next six months to a year when we could still have some health concerns.”
Other commissioners thought the process was rushed.
Commissioner Erin Knott says she doesn’t feel safe going back.
“I’m not comfortable moving forward until we take a deeper dive into a true hybrid model that allows for public participation as well as looking at legally what we can do to not only protect the commission. There is a lot of emphasis on the commission, but as I heard (Chamberlain) talk about earlier, there are 30 other boards and commissions let alone staff members that don’t have the choice to say, ‘you know what? I’m going to resign because I don’t feel comfortable showing up for a mandatory meeting.”
Mayor David Anderson asked about Tabeling the resolution for now and working on some of these issues.
Robinson told the commission their local State of Emergency ends Aug. 31, and it would need to extend that to the end of the year.
“Again, while I appreciate, and I’ve heard the same statistics Commissioner Knott says, the question then becomes is there a real or actual emergency? When the state has said we’re opening things up, there are no more restrictions on public gatherings. It seems a little inconsistent of the City of Kalamazoo to say, ‘Oh yeah, there’s still an emergency’ without pointing to any actual facts that would justify that determination,” Robinson told the commission.
He told them if they were going to table this for now, they need to work it out before then.
Commissioners decided to take a recommendation from Ritsema to move the discussion to the Committee of the Whole meeting on July 19 and not take any action at Tuesday night’s meeting the recommendation to return to in-person meetings.