It is safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another. Many of us were forced to become familiar with virtual meetings as a replacement for face-to-face meetings, whether we wanted to or not.
A dilemma arose for our local government clients with regards to holding public board meetings during the pandemic. It is a constitutional right to have public access to local government meetings; however, local governments also have a duty to protect the health and safety of its citizens.
In addition, Florida law requires a quorum to be physically present in order to conduct a public meeting.
Local governments were struggling with how to conduct public meetings and provide due process to their citizens while also protecting their health and safety. There were also concerns for the health and safety of local government officials who would also be required to attend the public meetings.
Thankfully, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Orders 20-52 and 20-69 to allow board members to appear virtually and still satisfy quorum requirements and to permit local governments to use media technology to hold board meetings.
However, once the Executive Orders were issued, our Firm and local government clients had to quickly come up to speed on the use of communications media technology, such as Zoom, to hold board meetings and provide due process to the public.
The notices for the public meetings had to be revised to provide the pertinent information for the public to access the virtual meeting; the staff in charge of the Zoom technology had to learn how to use Zoom to ensure that all due process rights were protected; our Firm and local government clients had to come up with procedures and guidelines to provide multiples means of public access to the meetings; and, the members of the local government boards themselves had to receive training and become familiar with the use of Zoom technology if they were going to appear virtually at the meetings.
Our Firm and our local government clients worked closely together to navigate through the issues stemming from the use of communications media technology as a means to access public meetings, with success! We are thankful to our local government clients who trusted us to help see them through these unprecedented times.