The COVID-19 pandemic has led local elected officials to postpone meetings or explore alternative ways of conducting business.
Solicitor Paul Litwin has advised elected officials throughout Wyoming County to utilize video or teleconferencing methods that could include public participation with phone or internet access.
However, he noted that in some cases, setting up a system and advertising in time may be impossible.
Keeping meetings as scheduled, but practicing social distancing guidelines is another possibility, he said, though keeping meetings to 10 or fewer people could be difficult.
The Wyoming County commissioners originally had plans to hold their next meeting on Thursday, March 26 via teleconference, but have postponed it until further notice, as the courthouse remains closed until April 3.
Commissioner Tom Henry said a date for their next meeting hasn’t been decided.
If it comes to it, Henry said the commissioners have the equipment available to meet via teleconference.
“We’re just trying to do the right thing and make sure our employees and the community are safe,” he said. “We’ll reevaluate everything again on April 3, but for now we’ve canceled all meetings until then.”
The Tunkhannock Area School Board has canceled its meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 26, but has been exploring virtual options, according to Superintendent Heather McPherson.
Additionally, the Lackawanna Trail School Board has canceled its work session on Monday, April 6 as board members look into potential alternatives for their meeting on April 13, such as meeting remotely via Zoom.
“Whatever we do, we have to do it so everyone is safe and protected,” said David Thorne, board president.
Thorne said once the board determines the status of its Monday, April 13 meeting, information will be available online at ltsd.org.
Nicholson Borough Council has also canceled its meeting on Monday, April 6.
“Right now we’re waiting until the middle of April,” said Dawn Bell, council president. “We’ll see where we are worldwide and go from there. We’re taking it very seriously.”
Tunkhannock Borough Council plans to hold its Thursday, April 2 meeting at 7 p.m. as usual, but ensure that those in attendance sit six feet apart, according to Dawn Welch, borough manager.
Afterward, once restrictions with COVID-19 die down, Welch said anyone could come to the borough building to listen to an audio recording of the meeting.
The Eaton Township supervisors haven’t made a decision about their next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 7.
Chairman Kenny White said the Pennsylvania State Association of Supervisors has given recommendations, including meeting via teleconference, canceling the meeting, or holding the meeting with 10 people or fewer, with everyone at least six feet apart.
In light of COVID-19, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records has issued an advisory for ensuring compliance with the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act for open meetings.
According to the advisory, the Sunshine Act clearly states that elected officials should hold public meetings in public buildings with open, public participation whenever possible.
“If an official emergency declaration prevents that from happening, a meeting via teleconference, webinar or other electronic method that allows for two-way communication is permissible in most circumstances,” the advisory said.
However, the OOR recommends that agencies provide an accessible method for public participation and explain it in advance of and during the meeting, as well as make a recording of the meeting available as soon as possible.