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City Council discusses possibility of returning to in-person meetings

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Over a live stream, Athens City Council discussed the possibility of returning to in-person meetings Monday night. 

Athens City Council President Chris Knisely announced that Senate Bill 365, which enabled city councils to meet remotely, is slated to end late November. 

“By Dec. 1, we could potentially have to return to meeting live. We’re hopeful to  get the bill extended, but what the Ohio Senate has urged cities to do is to pass a resolution,” Knisely said. 

Knisely added City Council has a one-page draft resolution that states “for health and safety particularly because of COVID 19, we urge the legislature to extend the deadline to allow us to continue to meet by remote.”

Councilmembers Chris Fahl, Peter Kotses and Jeffrey Risner voiced concerns over returning to live meetings. 

“We have to realize how many students are going to be coming back in January. If we’re in council chambers, how are we going to interact with the students?” Fahl said. 

Kotses added if City Council were to return to live, in-person meetings, the public would not have much access to the meetings and may not feel comfortable coming into the room. 

Risner took into account further concern over how the council would operate in such a room. 

“I look at the council room, it’s small, it has a low ceiling and the air is not particularly good,” Risner said. “As we learn more about COVID-19, we know that it is transmitted aerosol, and sometimes 6 feet distancing in a room for two hours can still be harmful to people’s safety and public health.”  

Scott Thompson, the director of the Government Channel, discussed the room layout, saying there would be a two-tiered row for council and possibly eight to nine seats distanced from the council open to the public. A podium would also be placed in the back of the room. 

In other business, the City Administration worked with AEP Ohio to install a system at the water treatment plant that will provide the city some resilience against power outages. 

Mayor Steve Patterson said a grant offered by the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council could cover the expenses for this installation, which cost $28,000.

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