The DeForest Village Board voted to return to in-person meetings, while also continuing some of the convenience of the past year.
Village Board President Jane Cahill Wolfgram brought the question of returning to the Village Hall in their April 7 board meeting, with Trustee William Landgraf giving the first response: “I’m ready,” said Landgraff, also expressing openness to the option of virtual attendance in the event any board members did not yet feel comfortable meeting in person.
The full details of return were more complicated as Cahill Wolfgram also asked what the board’s policy should be if more people would like to attend than can be safely spread throughout the meeting room. Trustee Taysheedra Allen was particularly hesitant of playing with precedents surrounding open meetings.
“I think it makes it easier and if the village is opening and doing things face-to-face,” said Allen, also supporting virtual option in case of attendance overflow. “I don’t want to turn people away, that seems like a very slippery slope that we don’t want to climb.”
Trustee Abigail Lowery followed with a concise, “ditto,” adding the caveat that this was presuming agreement with Public Health of Madison and Dane County recommendations, such as distancing and mask-wearing.
“But if one of my kids is sick or if I’m showing symptoms, it would be nice to still be able to participate in the meeting,” said Lowery, requesting that trustees continue to have a virtual option. Lowery took a step further, commenting that it would be good to continue to have the virtual option for logistical emergencies, as she described in her case, for instance if her husband were not able to get home in time to take over with the kids before she had to get to the meeting.
It was a situation that had not ever been a problem, but the fallback of a virtual option would be a relief for parents of younger children wishing to take part in the board, she explained.
“Not that I would use it that much,” said Lowery, “but it would be nice to have that option.”
In his last meeting as a trustee, having chosen not to run for re-election this year, Jason Kramar agreed with the need to get back to in-person meetings and the value of the digital options developed over the past year.
“It’s time to get back,” said Kramar. “I’ll say that we have enjoyed more appearances in this body since we’ve gone virtual since we’ve had ever. So this is a way to connect with our public and let’s not lose that.”
Likewise, Trustee Colleen Little agreed on returning to the Village Hall with a virtual option.
In part, a transition to a hybrid model would be nearly seamless, given a recent vote by the board to purchase software and storage technology to allow the DeForest Village Board to continue to record meetings and make them available through the village website.
Another related vote on April 7 that was not received with full unanimity surrounded a proposal by Cahill Wolfgram to extend emergency orders in response to increased COVID-19 infections and the increase of more dangerous variants of the virus.
One concern aired in response was what this would mean for village plans around July 4. Village Administrator and Finance Director Steve Fahlgren pointed out that those activities are organized by the DeForest-Windsor Area Chamber of Commerce and would be outside their jurisdiction in this case.
It was then proposed to continue the emergency orders and revisit the issue on June 2, which passed with support from Lowery, Allen and Little, while Landgraf and Kramar voted against the extension.