WINCHESTER — City Council’s first attempt at conducting a meeting in adherence with social-distancing guidelines was, at best, a frustrating experience.
With four councilors participating remotely via a conference call, back-and-forth discussions proved to be impossible. There was loud feedback and interference on the telephone line, so much so that some members’ votes were unintelligible or inaudible.
Later in the evening, Councilor Evan Clark apparently lost his phone connection, as he stopped responding to questions and casting votes.
Some of the four councilors who participated via conference call were simultaneously watching a live video stream of the meeting, which further heightened the confusion because of a 15-second delay in the online broadcast. As a result, it was often unclear if councilors were responding to statements and questions raised during the conference call or the delayed video stream.
Winchester officials had asked in advance that members of the public not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but instead watch the live stream of the session online. Because of the numerous hiccups and technical difficulties, though, it was impossible to understand what was happening at several points during the meeting.
Citizens were also encouraged to make comments to council online, rather than appearing in person to speak. Three people took advantage of the opportunity, but their comments were not read aloud for the benefit of those watching at home. Anyone interested in reading the statements can do so online at winchesterva.civicweb.net.
Another issue that complicated procedures was an agenda that did not properly designate three items as first readings. As a result, councilors attempted to vote on issues that were not yet eligible for a vote.
Coincidentally, those three agenda items all had to do with council’s desire to enact emergency powers in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One of those measures would allow even more councilors to participate electronically in future meetings.
After Tuesday’s meeting, City Attorney Melisa Michelsen said that any vote that could not be heard or understood by Kerri A. Mellott, deputy clerk of council, would not count. Mellott said she planned to review video and audio recordings of the meeting before preparing the official minutes from the session.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith and councilors Kim Herbstritt, Corey Sullivan, John Willingham and Les Veach. Vice Mayor John Hill, council Vice President Evan Clark, and councilors Judy McKiernan and Bill Wiley participated via teleconference.