BY BRANDON GARSIDE
Despite the many challenges presented by the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Ogden City Council adapted to these uncertain times to ensure their responsibilities are fulfilled and an open forum for Ogden residents is still available.
When the pandemic initially crept its way into our community, it triggered a chain of events that has led to where we are today. A state of emergency was declared on both national and local levels, and it was recommended that social gatherings be limited. This had strong implications on how bodies like the Ogden City Council would continue to conduct business. Under the Open and Public Meetings Act, it is required to provide the public with a physical location where they can both observe public meetings as well as provide input when appropriate. Because this would not be conducive to public safety amid the pandemic, Utah Governor Gary Herbert issued an executive order to suspend the enforcement of these “anchor locations” and allowed public meetings to be held electronically. The Ogden City Council then adopted a resolution to conduct all meetings in this way in accordance with the executive order. Since March 24, the City Council has conducted all its business and meetings, including the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget, using the video conferencing app, Zoom.
In late June, the state legislature adopted a bill that allows municipalities to continue to hold electronic meetings without an anchor location as, long as the Chair determines an anchor location would present a substantial risk to the health and safety of those who may be present. On July 2, Chair Angela Choberka signed this determination for the month of July, and will consider the determination at the beginning of each month moving forward.
“We want to be able to listen to the thoughts, ideas, and concerns from the residents we represent and do so in a manner that doesn’t compromise public safety,” City Council Chair Angela Choberka said. “What we have in place, which admittedly is not ideal compared to in-person meetings, strikes that balance between accessibility and safety. Every Council Member wants to get back inside the Council Chambers as soon as possible, but we won’t do so until it’s safe for everyone.”
The consideration of public input in the decision-making process has always been a top priority for the council, and the new electronic meeting format presented obstacles in doing so. Electronic meetings open to the public can be easy targets for those who wish to inappropriately interrupt the proceedings. There were several occurrences of this abuse in electronic meetings within the state, including one instance with Ogden City. As an alternative, the council introduced new methods by which the public could participate in meetings through a Public Comment Submission Form found online (ogdencity.com/publicinput) as well as a hotline (801-629-8158) where residents can address the council on any topic. Correspondence from these channels were addressed in meetings and were part of the public record.
With security measures now in place, the public can once again provide input directly to the council during meetings. The online form and hotline are still available, but are no longer entered into the record of the meeting. Residents can participate in public hearings and public comments using Zoom on their smartphone or computer, or by telephone. The login information, including dial-in numbers and meeting IDs, is published on the Thursday before the Tuesday of a scheduled meeting and can be found at ogdencity.com/councilagendas.