By Garret Roberts
As the number of COVID-19 vaccinations across Western Pennsylvania continues to rise, the Crafton Borough Council is deliberating how to safely return council meetings to an in-person format.
The proposal to transition the meetings from Zoom to in-person was introduced by council member Fred Amendola. Having experienced technical issues that prevented him from joining the meeting on Zoom himself, Amendola suggested the meeting occur in person again in order to avoid similar issues for others.
“I’m first to tell you that I have challenges with this Zoom,” said Amendola through a phone held by another user. “I get calls and run into other people who also have challenges.”
One option presented for meetings in the future is through a hybrid option, which allows the board to meet in person while also streaming online.
The recommendation to transition away from Zoom meetings was also based on other local communities who are returning to their traditional council meetings. The Franklin Park council meetings are now in-person for their members, who follow social distancing guidelines, according to the solicitor.
Another argument for returning to chambers was the re-opening of the Crafton Pool, which must deal with social distancing guidelines and COVID-19 prevention this season. If the pool is able to open, council members argued the council meetings should be able to accommodate in-person gatherings as well.
The plan received criticism from council president Phillip Levasseur, who believed the council should continue to follow the guidelines from the governor’s office and Allegheny County on meetings. Considering the potential for COVID-19 to spread among vaccinated people up to a month after receiving the vaccine, the president felt more careful planning was needed in order to transition to in-person meetings, and suggested the topic be added to next week's agenda.
“At this time, I believe we should continue to proceed as we have,” said Levasseur. “I believe another month of meetings online is responsible.”
Other board members also shared their concerns with a return to the chambers, as they currently lack the technological capabilities in their physical spaces to stream the meetings to implement the hybrid model.
While the Crafton Community Center was suggested as a larger venue to allow for social distancing, acquiring appropriate space posed an issue to the council members’ plans for a return.
The majority of community members who spoke at the council meeting said they felt that without a proper plan in place, the risks of in-person meetings outweigh the difficulties associated with Zoom meetings. They expressed their optimism for returning to a carefully planned physical meeting that prevented the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible.
“I urge council to deliberate,” said community member Justin Marks. “Take your time thinking about this."