The Vernon Township Council is planning to go hybrid this month.
The council has conducted all of its business over Zoom since the Covid-19 pandemic started in March 2020. On Sept. 27, the council unanimously agreed to return to the council chamber starting with its Oct. 14 meeting.
“We’re trying to go back to live meetings to the extent that we can,” said Mayor Howard Burrell.
Things, however, will look different.
To keep everyone on camera, only three people will sit on the dais, with the rest of the council at the table in front of the dais. Only the governing body and the mayor will be on camera, and the meeting attendees will not be shown.
Anyone who attends the meeting will have to wear a mask but will be allowed to lower it while speaking.
“Anyone that doesn’t want to wear a mask shouldn’t be made to, but they can stay home, and they can participate through their Zoom,” Councilwoman Toni Cilli said. “I say we give our residents the benefit of the doubt to follow the rules and see what happens.”
Additionally, only 25 people will be able to attend the meeting in-person. The chairs are set up at the usual social distance of six feet. However, members of the same household will be allowed to move their chairs closer together.
Council President Harry Shortway questioned the council’s legal right to turn people away before the 25-person capacity is reached. Council Vice President John Auberger said limits imposed by social distancing are no different than capacity limits that comply with fire regulations.
A police officer functioning as a “sergeant-at-arms” at council hall will enforce the new capacity limit. The door will be closed when capacity is reached.
The podium will be placed six feet from the nearest council member to maintain social distancing.
“We’re trying to do this, but also maintain the health and welfare of each of our citizens and ourselves,” Councilman Andrew Pitsker said. “And we don’t know what’s going on with these new variants. So, the best thing we can do is protect everybody.”
Shortway said any council member not comfortable attending a meeting may participate remotely from home, especially if they are at high-risk for Covid or have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
“I don’t think anyone should be forced to come,” Cilli said. “I think everyone has their own reasons, and if you feel comfortable coming, you should. If we don’t, we shouldn’t be forced to.”
“We’re trying to do this, but also maintain the health and welfare of each of our citizens and ourselves. And we don’t know what’s going on with these new variants. So, the best thing we can do is protect everybody.” Councilman Andrew Pitsker