The Sun Prairie City Council plans to meet in person starting in July after more than a year of virtual government meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the public won’t be invited back to the council chambers at first, because the city council cautiously approaches a post-pandemic world.
The move comes as Dane County public health orders ended on June 2 and the majority of county residents have been vaccinated against the deadly virus.
It won’t be back to normal as municipalities navigate between keeping people safe, allowing public access while taking advantage of technology that enhanced communication during the pandemic.
Alders on Tuesday favored moving ahead with a hybrid meeting plan to meet in person in city council chambers and allow the public to participate virtually.
The format could be similar to the Sun Prairie School Board that meets in person and the public participating via Zoom.
Sun Prairie alders Steve Stocker and Maureen Crombie both liked the idea of continuing virtual access for residents to promote community involvement, especially families.
“We might see more participation in meetings if people didn’t have to get a sitter,” Stocker said at the June 1 Committee of the Whole meeting.
City staff will have the option to attend city meetings virtually or in person, as would speakers and other presenters.
City Attorney Mark Leonard said he expects to draft a city policy and ordinance to allow city commissions, ad hoc groups and other city boards to have a say on whether to meet virtually or in person.
HVAC filter upgrades, plexiglass shields, social distancing and extra COVID-19 protocol cleaning have been put into place at city buildings to keep staff and the public safe, city officials said.
District 4 Alder and past council president Mary Polenske said she favored returning to in-person meetings to improve the decision-making process. The plan could also give the options for some alders to continue virtual participation if they chose, something that District 3 Alder Mike Jacobs joked about.
“I don’t want to be in the same room with any of you crazy fools who aren’t vaccinated,” Jacobs said.
The Committee of the Whole is expected to review ordinances and policies later this month to return to in-person meetings mid-July.
It’s another step the city is making to return to pre-COVID operations. City hall and the Westside Community Building reopened to the public in April after being closed since November. The Sun Prairie Public Library began in-person browsing in May.
More than 3.5 million people have died from the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization statistics. Wisconsin Department of Health reports 7,094 have died in the state as of June 2.
Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) orders were lifted on June 2 with no more restrictions on gatherings and businesses. Public health officials recommend face masks for unvaccinated individuals. Face masks continue to be required for public transportation and health care settings. Businesses and organizations can set their own face mask policies.
PHMDC will continue contact tracing for people diagnosed with COVID-19, along with isolation and quarantine requirements to prevent exposure.
PHMDC reports seeing less than 20 new COVID-19 cases per day, the lowest numbers in the past year, and fewer hospitalizations.