The city of Des Moines is rescheduling some public meetings in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The move comes as more people, in Iowa and nationwide, are testing positive for the virus, which causes respiratory illness that can be particularly harmful to older adults.
“I can assure you the city is committed to responding quickly and responsibly while proceeding with care and caution,” Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said in a video address to the community this week. “To protect the public, we will make changes in how we conduct our meetings utilizing technology to connect board members and providing social distancing to those attending.
The city of Des Moines this week postponed a joint meeting between the City Council and the Human Rights Commission. A Plan and Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for March 19 was moved to April 2. The March 18 Historic Preservation Commission meeting was canceled. And, between April 6 and May 18, City Council meetings will be held at the Richard A. Clark Municipal Service Center boardroom instead of City Hall.
The council’s March 23 meeting will be held at City Hall because of public notification rules, city officials said.
Beginning April 2, council meetings will be held at the Municipal Service Center because it allows the city to “increase social distancing for those residents in attendance as well as council members,” according to Al Setka, the city’s spokesperson.
During public meetings, attendees will be moved in and out of the meeting room based on the agenda item in which they are interested, according to Setka. “This will allow us to accommodate the most members of the public who want to comment or hear about a specific agenda item while providing optimal social distancing.”
City offices continue to be open during regular business hours.
Waukee city officials are waiting until to see what happens in the next week or so before making decisions about public meetings, a city spokeswoman said. The Waukee City Council and Plan and Zoning Commission meet the week of March 23.
Summer Evans, Waukee’s spokeswoman, said officials are considering providing a live Facebook video stream with comments enabled during public hearings. The city typically posts videos with 24 hours of its meetings to its website and YouTube, she said.
West Des Moines and Ankeny officials currently aren’t planning any changes regarding public meetings, city representatives said.
The Iowa Public Information Board, in response to questions from public boards, this week released information regarding the state’s open meetings laws and COVID-19. The release stated that while meetings can be held electronically, public access to the conversation must be provided. The board also recommended that public entities discuss how and when to hold electronic meetings with legal counsel. To read the release, click here.