QUESTION: Any tips for virtual board meetings?
ANSWER: My wife, Pauline, was sworn in as mayor of our municipality in January. There was a council meeting in February, but the meeting in March was cancelled due to COVID-19. However, the municipality’s business still had to be conducted, so the April meeting had to be held, and it was conducted as a “virtual” meeting.
The first tip is to have two or three “dry runs” to work out any glitches. During the dry runs, some council members were having trouble getting into the meeting, or would get into the meeting but couldn’t be heard, or couldn’t be seen. Those problems were all solved. So, work with the IT department to identify and solve issues.
Another tip is to realize that the normal procedure may have to be altered for practical reasons. Usually at council meetings, the public is permitted to speak after each agenda item is on the floor. So, in a normal meeting, if there are five agenda items, a resident may get up to speak five times. However, because that would have been technically difficult, burdensome and not very practical in a virtual meeting, the procedure was changed so that a resident could speak regarding any or all of the agenda items all at once.
An additional tip is to start the board meeting with a “confidentiality reminder.” These aren’t necessary at council meetings since our municipality has to adhere to the state “sunshine” act which means that the meetings are open to the public, except for some very specific issues, such as personnel matters. So, start the meeting with a reminder and document it in the minutes. The reminder could include practical matters, such as stating the board members should try to avoid being in a place in the house where the members can be overheard, or the audio from the meeting can be heard. Also, a reminder to not download emails with peer review, Protected Health Information, or confidential attachments to their home computers which everyone in the house has access to.
Finally, when COVID-19 has hopefully passed, take everything that has been learned to develop a policy on virtual meetings. Hopefully, it will never have to be used again, but you will be ready for the next big snowstorm!