City Council adds remote participation by members and public

WESTFIELD – All 13 city councilors participated in the March 19 City Council meeting; seven were in the Council Chambers in City Hall, and six joined by telephone. Although City Hall was closed to the public, participation was also invited at the start of the meeting by telephone.
“The Council came together and made a very difficult situation work,” said Council President Brent B. Bean, II
Bean said that some councilors, for personal reasons opted to participate from home, which allowed those in chambers to sit in every other seat. “If we had 10 (in chambers), we were going to make sure we were 6-10 feet apart,” he said.
At the start of the meeting, Bean thanked the Law Department for its guidance, IT Director Lenore Bernashe and Media Specialist Peter Cowles for setting up conference call capability on one phone, and on a feed into Channel 15 so those participating remotely could be heard on air. The meeting was also broadcast on Channel 15’s You Tube channel.
“They worked overtime to accomplish that and I really appreciate it,” Bean said of Bernashe and Cowles, adding there are clearly more pressing things to do in the city than to accommodate the council.
Bean said for public participation an existing phone line in the Chamber was used, which was managed by City Clerk Karen M. Fanion. Kathleen Hillman of Susan Drive did call in on the number that was announced at the start of the meeting, which Bean said was great, but admitted “it was a little clunky.” He said public participation was not required due to a state relaxation of Open Meeting Laws during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said as a council, they felt it was an important thing to do.
State Rep. John C. Velis attended the meeting on an invitation from Bean. Also present were City Solicitor Susan Phillips and John Fitzgerald, Esq., a candidate for assistant city solicitor. During the meeting, the council voted unanimously for his appointment.
Also approved was one polling place at Westfield Middle School for the March 31 Special Senate Election.
Several prior year bills came to the full council from the Finance subcommittee, which was one of several committees that canceled their meetings last week. Action was taken by the Committee as a Whole on all but one prior bill for $18,495 in the Stormwater Construction Account from Fiscal Year 2016. After a discussion, the item was referred back to the Finance committee.
“We were able to move a lot of things forward,” Bean said. “The Council was very patient and accommodating.”
Bean said as council president, he is probably going to have a discussion with the Law Department and the mayor on scheduling meetings as needed moving forward. “There really needs to be pressing issues for us to meet at this point,” he said.
Overall, he thought the meeting went well, given the challenges.“It was a lot of hands that made it light work. I’m glad it worked out,” Bean said.

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