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Burlington’s council sets timetable for return to in-person meetings

Next meetings, on July 19 and 20, will be in person

Burlington’s city council has effectively been shamed into resuming live, in-person meetings after a staff report on the coronavirus pandemic revealed just how fully the city’s other functions have bounced back from the ravages of COVID-19.

During a virtual meeting last Tuesday, Hardin Watkins informed the council that nearly all of the city’s operations are now back in commission notwithstanding some residual effects from the pandemic.

“Almost every component of the city of Burlington’s operations is open and running normally,” the city manager went on to assure the council. “I believe we’ve been the leader in our region in reopening as safely and quickly as we could without negatively impacting the safety of our staff and the safety of our patrons.”

Watkins added that the city’s billing and payments office is the only facility that hasn’t reopened to the public. He added, however, that residents can still use the office’s drive-thru to make payments and will soon be able to reenter the building itself by appointment.

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In response to the city manager’s report, councilman Harold Owen proposed that the council should take a cue from the staff and resume in-person gatherings within its regular meeting chamber at Burlington’s city hall. Owen’s suggestion was accepted readily enough by the rest of the council.

During one of their last in-person meetings, in March 2020, the council had initiated “social distancing” seating, with council members spread out with approximately 6 feet between them.

“I’m ready when you are,” councilman Jim Butler said to his colleague’s proposal.

Morgan Lasater, Burlington’s community engagement manager, said that, in anticipation of live council meetings, city staff members have already made some modifications to the council chamber, such as equipping it with earpieces for the hearing impaired. She added that the city can continue to stream meetings live over Youtube, as it has throughout the pandemic, when the council returns to in-person meetings. These live feeds can also be broadcast to other rooms within city hall so they can function as overflow areas for the council’s audience.

Lasater added that the city can reintroduce spectators to these facilities at a moment’s notice.

“We’re ready to go,” she insisted. “It’s all done, and we troubleshooted it all at least one time.”

The council reached a consensus to reconvene in its traditional meeting chamber during its next monthly work session on July 19.

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