Councilmembers throughout the Vail Valley wonder when in-person meetings will return | VailDaily.com
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Councilmembers throughout the Vail Valley wonder when in-person meetings will return

Public meetings may always have some sort of virtual element for public participation

Controversial issues can fill the Vail Town Council chambers. That hasn't been possible since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Some councilmembers would like to get back to in-person meetings.
John LaConte | jlaconte@vaildaily.com

Travis Coggin would like to know how much longer the Vail Town Council will be in the Zoom universe.

During Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, Coggin asked “what’s the trigger?” for returning to in-person meetings.

“We have in-person school … I feel there’s a way to do it,” Coggin said, adding he believes that in-person meetings lead to a better dialogue between councilmembers and the public.

At the western end of the valley, Eagle Town Councilmember Andy Jessen said there’s been some discussion of in-person public meetings for that board.

Jessen said that council has been holding in-person, socially-distanced work sessions for some time. And, he added, “there’s nothing that prevents us from having in-person meetings.”

But, he added, the council has had a higher level of public engagement by holding virtual meetings. There’s also the matter of fairness for controversial topics.

Eagle’s Town Hall doesn’t have the technical capability to hold hybrid in-person/online meetings, Jessen said. A controversial public hearing with reduced audience capacity raises fairness questions about who can and can’t participate.

Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes said there hasn’t been any recent discussion on that board about holding in-person meetings.

Before a July spike in COVID-19 cases, there’d been discussion about holding in-person meetings for members comfortable with the idea. Other councilmembers would be able to participate virtually.

That idea was shelved after the July spike in cases.

Smith Hymes said she was recently hiking with another councilmember who misses in-person meetings. On the other hand, Smith Hymes also knows several people who have “barely left their houses” over the past several months.

Smith Hymes said virtual meetings can be better for public participation. But, she added, she’s heard complaints from one resident who’d like to see who’s participating in discussions.

The Eagle County Commissioners haven’t stopped holding in-person meetings. The meeting podium at the county administration building in Eagle is big enough that commissioners have always been at least 6 feet apart. And the room where meetings are held is large enough to accommodate the public most of the time, although its current capacity is only just more than 35 people.

Commissioner Matt Scherr said county officials have tried to design the meeting room for the potential of big audiences.

Scherr said people will be asked to register in advance for possibly controversial topics. If more people register than the room can accommodate, the meeting will be held online.

Scherr said he hopes some of the current plans can be used beyond the pandemic to “make the public process more accessible.”

Back in Vail, Mayor Dave Chapin said he also misses in-person meetings.

“It’s important for us to be in our public building where the public can come in and see and talk to us,” Chapin said. Acknowledging that opening meetings presents operational challenges, “the sooner we can get back in front of the public, the better,” he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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