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City Council to Library Boards: Should Local Entities Be Allowed to Meet Virtually?

The pandemic has opened up local governments to all kinds of virtual meetings. But that was only during the declared state of emergency. There's currently an effort to keep at least some of those electronic meetings after the pandemic is over.

For many years, local governments in Virginia have been pressing the General Assembly to allow them to have virtual meetings. The answer has always been no, until the pandemic. Now lawmakers are about to consider an effort to allow your local library board or even your city council to conduct virtual meetings after the pandemic is over.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker says public bodies should be able to meet online.

"What I am trying to do is allow the opportunity for either all virtual meetings or hybrid meetings that don't have a physical quorum in the room outside an emergency," Bennett-Parker says.

But Betsy Edwards at the Virginia Press Association says it would be a mistake to get rid of the requirement that most meetings have a physical quorum of members in the room where it happens.

"The best way for participation is still in person. I think the public knows who's talking," Edwards explains. "They know their demeanor. They can ask follow-up questions after the meeting ends. The same thing goes for the press. So I think the old-fashioned way just works better."

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council is considering a compromise that public bodies — that's everything from your water board to the planning commission — can hold up to 25% of their meetings online. Anything beyond that would require a physical quorum of members.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.