CEDAR FALLS — In a bid to restore some sense of normalcy, a City Council member proposed this week that the group gather at City Hall for its next meeting.
Dave Sires suggested during Monday’s meeting by video conference “that we look into opening up the council.” He referenced Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recent loosening up of restrictions for businesses in some parts of the state, not including Black Hawk County. To adhere to social distancing measures, he said council members could all sit six feet apart on the dais.
“I’d like to see us get back to a little normalcy,” he said. “I think that’d be good for everyone.”
City Administrator Ron Gaines said it may be a possibility to bring the council and staff into the chamber with the social distancing measures. Mayor Rob Green, who has been setting up Zoom video conferencing for the meetings, said such an arrangement would still allow for residents to join remotely over a computer or phone.
Not everyone was ready to move beyond a virtual gathering, though.
“I’m not overly eager to rush back into this,” said council member Mark Miller. “Especially when all of our other policies citywide are saying our buildings are closed, our employees are going to work at home whenever they can.
“No matter how we look at it, there’s going to be complications to this,” he added. “I want to get back to business as usual just like everybody else, but I also don’t want to rush this just for the sake of rushing it.”
Miller noted video conference meetings may not be ideal, “but they are working.” However, he didn’t object to some council members joining the meeting from City Hall while some remain remote.
Others also urged caution in moving forward.
“I agree together is better, but I think we need to provide leadership,” said council member Frank Darrah. “We need to err on the side of caution with this and understand the importance of it and demonstrate to our public that we’re taking it serious.”
Council member Nick Taiber said “being in person does create a more intimate and, I think, meaningful meeting experience.” But he didn’t want to deter those interested in continuing to use the technology over concern about exposure to the coronavirus. “The best part of the Zoom meeting is it does allow people from non-council locations to actually participate in the meeting.”
Council member Susan deBuhr endorsed Sires’ idea, but for technological reasons.
“I think Mr. Sires is simply saying he’d like to get back to being in the council chambers and I certainly agree with that,” she said. “I’ve heard about a third of what’s been said tonight, because I apparently have a network bandwidth which is low and so it cuts out your voices constantly.”
DeBuhr explained how she had been listening to the meeting on cable channel 15 while following along with the video conference on her computer. A time lag between the two was making it difficult, though.
“I do think it would be a lot better in the council chambers if there’s a way to work it out,” she said.
Cedar Falls officials are looking into this, but no decision has been made.
“Currently City Hall is closed to the public,” noted city spokeswoman Amanda Huisman. “It may be open for council members during the next meeting, but we are waiting on guidance from the governor. From what we know at this time, it is doubtful it would be open to the public because of social distancing guidelines.”
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