Officials cautious over resuming public meetings
By Jamie Wiggan
Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, local officials are mostly cautious about reopening municipal meetings to the public.
Almost all area municipalities immediately shifted to remote meeting platforms following Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide emergency declaration March 6, and most have continued to operate virtually.
“We wanna watch the second wave of this carefully because if it surges again we’ll be back in the same boat,” said Mel Weinstein, interim manager at Kennedy. “We’re going to tread lightly.”
Ingram President Sam Nucci said the high representation of older public servants among his council and others in the area adds to the case for meeting virtually.
“We’re gonna keep doing it remotely for as long as it takes,” he said.
Stowe and Robinson resumed in-person meetings in June when Allegheny County moved into the Green Phase of Wolf’s reopening plan, and Coraopolis followed suit the following month.
The rest remain remote only, while some are opting for a hybrid approach — where a core of officials meet in-person and others join in remotely.
Those returning to in-person meetings have to limit public participation in order to maintain social distancing.
Robinson Township caps public attendance at 10 residents but broadcasts meetings through the local television network so residents can also view from home.
“So far five have shown up every time, so it’s been perfect,” Manager Frank Piccolino said.
Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Laws require that all public meetings are accessible to residents, so state lawmakers had to rush through legislation in April to legalize remote meetings. Slipped into a larger Senate bill, the provision for remote government meetings is only valid while the state-wide declaration remains in place.
Since invoking the declaration in March, Wolf has twice extended it by 90-day increments, most recently on Sept. 1.
Coronavirus cases in Allegheny County initially peaked in late March and began trailing off before surging again in June. Since mid-July daily infections have been consistently falling.