Government bodies can now meet virtually, but most aren’t equipped to

Local governmental entities may now legally meet via electronic communication as a result of an executive order issued Friday, March 20, yet most aren’t technologically equipped to do so. This is in response to recommendations to limit gatherings of 10 or more people in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and enforced locally by a new executive order from Gov. Bill Lee on Sunday, closing gyms statewide and limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery only.

Lawmakers hurried last week in an attempt to pass a bill suspending the requirement for a quorum of members to be physically present in order to conduct public business, but ultimately failed to pass the bill due to disagreements in the details before going into recess Thursday evening.

Gov. Lee took on the matter Friday with Executive Order 16, temporarily allowing local government bodies defined under TCA § 8-44-102 to conduct their business via electronic communication. This could take the shape of conference calls via phone or video conferencing.

Most Local Government Bodies Not Yet Equipped

Government bodies in Carroll County are not currently equipped to hold virtual meetings, and many have suspended their meetings that were scheduled for the next couple of weeks.

The Carroll County Electric Department will break the ice with their meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 26 at 2:30.

The Town of Bruceton does record their meetings that are available on their Facebook page. However, at the March 10 meeting, it was not recorded due to a problem.

At present all board and council meetings have been cancelled for the rest of March.

Huntingdon town recorder Kim Carter said the town which has two council meetings a month is not currently set up for electronic streaming.

“By not meeting, it will give us time to figure out how we might do our meetings electronically,” she said.

 City of McKenzie recorder Jennifer Waldrup said the city is currently working on how to handle meetings electronically but do not have anything in place yet.

The remaining towns in Carroll County which do not have electronic streaming are Hollow Rock, Bruceton, Clarksburg, McLemoresville, Trezevant and Atwood.

Trezevant town recorder Kathy Edwards said the town is supposed to have a bid opening on March 30.

Public Notice/Open Meeting Still Required

The order released Friday specifies that even electronic meetings are subject to standard open meetings and public notice regulations spelled out in TCA § 8-44.

Specifically, the Order says: “All governing body meetings conducted by electronic means under this Order shall remain open and accessible to public attendance by electronic means, as follows: Each governing body must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the public access to the meeting via electronic means is live access, but if the governing body cannot provide such live public access despite reasonable efforts, the governing body must make a clear audio or video recording of the meeting available to the public as soon as practicable following the meeting, and in no event more than two business days after the meeting.”

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