Members of the Ceres City Council are poised to allow the public to physically attend council meetings for the first time since the pandemic restrictions were enacted in March 2020 – but put off the decision Monday until guidelines can be established.
For most of 2020, the council had been conducting business via Zoom meetings with councilmembers and staff participating from home or offices. Toward the end of the year members began physically sitting in the Council dais, modified with plastic dividers, with the public barred from attending.
As the COVID-19 situation is easing locally, there are calls for meetings to reopen. City Manager Tom Westbrook surveyed other cities in the county and learned that six of the nine are holding meetings virtually only. The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors has been allowing the public to walk into its chambers for meetings but limited that number to about 30 and physically distanced. Turlock is considering phasing in public in-person attendance. Oakdale is also considering a reopening.
Lee Brandt phoned in to say if meetings are reopened, he wants to see the public be able to participate via Zoom as well “because there are those of us out here that still do not believe that it’s a good idea to open up the meetings.”
Westbrook responded by saying Zoom would still be offered. Westbrook said the chambers could accommodate 30 to 40 seats and still offer physical distancing.
Ceres resident John Osgood called in to say he wanted chambers reopened immediately. He said the fact that on Feb. 2 the council applicants were allowed to physically attend and take off their masks “bothers me that the public is not allowed to attend in the same manner as they were.”
“We are all adults,” said Osgood. “We can utilize face coverings or masks, we can stay home and participate via Zoom.”
Dave Pratt, a frequent council attendee, also wanted to meet physical attendance allowed again, saying the chambers were rarely crowded.
Mayor Javier Lopez said guidelines would be prudent if the chambers are reopened. Vice Mayor Couper Condit said as long as physical distancing occurs and microphones are sanitized reopening meetings would be “good for the community.”
Councilman Bret Silveira said he wants to see a “thorough and detailed plan before I’d have a reasonable opinion on it.”
Lopez agreed that the council should proceed after making sure that everyone is protected. He recommended tabling the matter until procedures are established.
The matter is expected to come back on March 8.