After more than a year participating in meetings largely from their own rec rooms or similar spaces, Arlington County Board members will be back on the dais later this month.
“The board is looking forward to holding board meetings and interacting with the community in-person safely and responsibly,” County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti told the Sun Gazette after the decision was made.
The board’s June 12 meeting will be the first held in-person since the onset of the COVID crisis of early 2020. But there will be some alterations in place.
The public will be allowed in the board room for the meeting; under the announced plan (which is subject to change based on health conditions), those who have been vaccinated will be able to attend sans masks, while those who have not yet completed a COVID vaccine protocol are requested either to wear masks or to participate in the meeting from home.
Board members will take public comment on public-hearing items both in person and online; all those wishing to speak on items are asked to register in advance.
“We know some members of the community may feel more comfortable participating ‘virtually,’ and we’ve heard from quite a few who enjoy the convenience of having the option of being part of our meetings without having to physically attend in person,” de Ferranti said. “We are happy to be offering both options for our June meetings.”
(Going forward, how much creativity County Board members will be able to embark on in holding their meetings will be determined at the state level. Since the onset of the pandemic, public meetings – which in Virginia historically have been required to be held in-person – have been permitted to go to “virtual” settings under emergency powers delegated to localities by the governor.)
The Saturday meeting will start at 8:30 a.m. The board’s recessed meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 15 at 3 p.m. (board reports) and 6:30 p.m. (public items). Those meetings also will be open to the public, with the same protocols in place.
As in some other areas of governance during the pandemic, Arlington has lagged a number of neighboring jurisdictions in getting its governing-body meetings back in person. During the more than a year that board meetings were held “virtually,” most County Board members participated from their homes. An exception was Takis Karantonis, who usually was in his office at the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center. County Manager Mark Schwartz also took part in meetings from his office.
The upcoming June meeting will provide a number of items sure to warm the hearts of Arlington’s progressives, including stripping the name of Robert E. Lee off Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) in the county and starting the ball rolling to restore collective-bargaining with municipal employees.
The Democratic majority in the General Assembly paved the way for both actions earlier this year.