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Oklahoma Local Gov Leaders React to Virtual Meeting Rule

The Oklahoma State Legislature has once again voted to amend the Open Meeting Act so members of public bodies can meet virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. SB 1031 is now awaiting Gov. Kevin Stitt's signature.

by Michelle Charles, Stillwater NewsPress / February 9, 2021

(TNS) — The Oklahoma State Legislature has once again voted to amend the Open Meeting Act so members of public bodies can meet virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. SB 1031 is now awaiting Gov.  Kevin Stitt's  signature.

It can't come soon enough for some elected officials in the Stillwater area.

It's not something every board or commission has done, but during last spring's shutdown, many tried it as a way to lessen exposure to the virus.

The Stillwater City Council met via Zoom from March through the amendment's expiration on Nov. 15The City Council has since begun meeting at the Stillwater Community Center to allow room for physical distancing during meetings.

Stillwater Mayor  Will Joyce  celebrated the passage, which had been expected to be one of the legislature's first order of business when it returned to session in February.

"I think it's the right thing t0 do, not just because we are still dealing with a pandemic, but because technology has the potential to make meetings more accessible and open to all," Joyce told the News Press. "I hope the legislature and  Gov. Stitt  work together on a permanent modernization of our open meeting laws."

Chris Reding , Chairman of the Payne County Board of Commissioners, said he doesn't see the county commission being interested in going virtual at this time. Reding doesn't think distancing has been a problem for during the county meetings.

But he can see it being helpful for some of the other boards he serves on as part of his job.

There just wasn't much interest from the public when the county commission was holding virtual meetings, Reding said. It could be used to create a hybrid meeting format with the commissioners meeting in person and an online feed for spectators if there is enough interest.

"The place where this will make the biggest difference in my life as a Commissioner is in our multi-county boards that we serve on," Reding said. "A number of the older board members have not been excited about traveling and meeting in person. This will allow them to be part of meetings again."

District 1 Commissioner  Zach Cavett  said he doesn't have much interest in meeting virtually at this time. It made sense to him early in the pandemic when people didn't know what to expect but he now feels safe meeting in person.

He believes case numbers have peaked and things will start improving. Overall, he would rather provide distance during meetings.

Cavett said he prefers to meet face-to-face so he can inspect and sign the documents the county commission approves himself instead of leaving it up to the Chairman.

(c)2021 the Stillwater NewsPress (Stillwater, Okla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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