All city committees could be able to conduct business virtually, but with some restrictions, under a bill approved Wednesday by a Jefferson City Council committee.
The Committee on Administration voted 4-1 Wednesday to expand virtual options for committees and individual members. Ward 4 Councilman Ron Fitzwater was the lone dissenting vote.
"It's just a lot easier to have a conversation eyeball to eyeball with someone rather than staring at a computer screen," he said. "I'm still comfortable having members of the public or other interested members virtually."
It comes as the emergency guidelines allowing virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic will expire Tuesday, unless extended by the City Council.
The bill will not be on Monday's agenda, City Attorney Ryan Moehlman said, since the committee wanted several changes from what he proposed. He said it will probably appear on the June 19 meeting agenda.
The bill focuses on members of a committee, not virtual participation by the public.
"We don't need code to open up our meetings," Moehlman said. "That's something we can just do, and I think flexibility on something like that is key. This is about members and how they vote."
The main change, proposed by Chairwoman Erin Wiseman, Ward 3, would allow committees to apply to be fully remote for most meetings.
Moehlman's original bill limited committees to hold no more than 50 percent of regularly scheduled meetings virtually.
Committees would apply through the Committee on Administration for the exception, and it would need full City Council approval.
"I think when we say more than half, then you start debating about public works, planning and zoning, transportation and traffic," Wiseman said. "We start debating about some of that probably still do need to be in person more often than not instead of cultural arts that doesn't have as much of a public presentation."
The bill would allow either the chairman or full board to approve a fully virtual or hybrid meeting. Remote voting members would need to have faces visible to count for quorum and voting.
Public hearings would need to be in person.
The bill does not require a committee to provide a virtual option for members or the public.
Moehlman said the city isn't at the point with resources to require all committees stream meetings through WebEx. In some rooms such as the council chambers and the Boone Bancroft Boardroom, "it's actually pretty easy to plug in," he said.
"We do have rooms that aren't set up for that," he said. "So, some sort of mandate that all committee meetings must be held through WebEx won't work. We just don't have that many equipped rooms."