By Rich Pollack
Municipalities in southern Palm Beach County that are holding virtual meetings can continue to do so for another 30 days, but officials should be prepared to convene in person come Nov. 1.
An executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sept. 30 gives local governments a month to plan a transition from Zoom and similar technologies to face-to-face meetings.
A memo from the governor’s communications director makes it clear that it is unlikely there will be additional extensions. “Local government bodies should prepare to meet in person as required by Florida law beginning Nov. 1, 2020,” Frank Piccolo Jr. wrote.
For area towns and cities already conducting in-person meetings or hybrid meetings with some officials attending in person and others electronically -– including Ocean Ridge –- the extension will have little impact.
“When Governor DeSantis no longer allows virtual meetings, all commissioners will be required to attend in-person, and the public who wishes to make public comment will also need to attend in-person or submit written comments to the town clerk prior to the meeting,” said Ocean Ridge Town Manager Tracey Stevens.
But Highland Beach, Manalapan, Boca Raton and Delray Beach will be making adjustments to ensure they adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines.
Boca Raton, for example, is considering holding council meetings in a larger city-owned space to make social distancing easier, while Highland Beach and Manalapan are making adjustments to commission chambers, including adding dividers between commissioners and requiring masks.
“We’ll be taking reasonable precautions,” said Highland Beach Town Manager Marshall Labadie, adding that the town is considering having commissioners attend meetings in person but residents attend by Zoom. “We’re moving closer to how it used to be but with CDC guidelines, it could be a little tricky.”
In Boynton Beach, where a hybrid system is used with the mayor at a government building but commissioners accessing remotely, an emergency ordinance passed unanimously on Sept. 30 giving commissioners an opportunity to invoke home rule and continue holding virtual meetings until December.
That could change, however, according to City Manager Lori LaVerriere.
“Both our meetings in October will be hybrids and we'll be evaluating it on a monthly basis,” she said.