A measure allowing electronic participation at meetings by members of the Fort Atkinson City Council, boards, commissions and committees has been moved to a third reading.

Council members took that action Tuesday night while reconvening once again in-person in council chambers for the first time since conducting meetings in an exclusively virtual format due to the pandemic.

However, a virtual hybrid model is being made available for members of the general public interested in attending city sessions remotely when it might be more advantageous to do so.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 18 months, the city has transitioned from in-person city council, board, commission and committee meetings to fully remote or virtual meetings,” City Manager Rebecca Houseman LeMire informed. “The city has been using the Zoom teleconference application to support virtual public meetings with success.

“City staff also use various teleconference applications for staff meetings, meetings with the public and consultants, and any other meetings when the virtual option is convenient and desirable,” she added.

In the April 2021 issue of The Municipality, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities’ monthly publication, Attorney Brian Sajdak contemplates electronic meetings under the New Robert’s Rules of Order.

“The city has not adopted Robert’s Rules of Order in its entirety; however, the council and other boards, commissions and committees use the Rules as a guide for meeting management,” LeMire noted. “In the article, Attorney Sajdak points out that the code of ordinances that includes the bylaws for governmental bodies should specifically authorize electronic meetings if the governing body desires to continue to meet in that manner beyond an emergency situation or authorization.”

The City of Fort Atkinson, she said, desires to continue to support virtual public meetings through the pandemic and in the future when appropriate and convenient for the city council, members of boards, commissions and committees; staff members; and the general public.

“Additionally, the city desires to provide an option for hybrid meetings in the future, when the city’s technology in the council meeting room allows for it, to support both in-person participation and virtual participation in a hybrid environment,” LeMire added.

This move, she said, is not expected to impact the city financially.

“The city council has authorized staff to contract with our IT provider to make technology upgrades to the council meeting room to accommodate hybrid public meetings,” LeMire said. “These upgrades are now almost complete, and the council chambers can accommodate hybrid public meetings.”

The council performed the second reading of the ordinance Tuesday and directed the city manager to prepare it for a third reading on Sept. 21.

City council member Megan Hartwick said this hybrid option was a “pretty straightforward one.”

“Certainly, knowing even when there isn’t a medical or health reason that we can’t meet in person, that sometimes virtual is easier and more convenient so some of that may still go forward,” she said.

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