On March 20, the City of Great Bend adopted a resolution restricting public access to city buildings. However, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued guidance for keeping meetings, like those of the City Council, adhere to the Kansas Open Meetings Act and are open to the public during the COVID-19 social distancing emergency restrictions.
“It is the hope of the city that this crisis passes quickly and that all remain safe and healthy,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said. “When deemed safe to do so, the city will return to allowing public attendance at meetings.”
The next council meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 6.
Since public access restrictions have been placed on public buildings, special procedures will be followed in conducting public meetings.
The members of the governing body will, if at all possible, be physically present for the meetings, although some may have to attend by telephone or teleconferencing. However, circumstances may dictate the members refrain from physically gathering in one place.
In either case, the city will disseminate a notice explaining why and how the ordinary meeting procedures will change and how they will work.
More specifically, the city will:
• Post notices and meeting agendas on its website www.greatbendks.net. The press will also be notified of meetings.
• Utilize the website Zoom at zoom.com with meeting identification number 720-707-2528 to broadcast the meeting to the public. Interested persons wishing to use this website may do so by following the procedure set out in the attachment to this document. (To listen and/or observe via the web the address is https://zoom.us/j/7207072528).
• Broadcast the meeting live on Facebook at the following web address www.facebook.com/gbcitycouncil/.
• It should be noted that the Zoom option is accessible through telephonic or internet facilities. Persons wishing to listen and/or observe on Zoom should place their phone on mute by either pressing the Mute button or *6. Interested persons are not required to have a Facebook page in order to observe the meeting through Facebook.
• Recordings of meetings will be posted on the city’s Public Access Television Station, Cox Channel 20, and available for public viewing within 24 hours of the meeting.
• Take any actions as may be necessary and reasonable under the circumstances of the emergency declaration to advance the state policy that “meetings for the conduct of governmental affairs and the transaction of governmental business open to the public.”
What about KOMA in this COVID-190 era?
Francis said the KOMA remains in full force, unless explicitly suspended by emergency order of the governor.
So, Schmidt said that since the members of the public body are not physically gathered in one place, the meeting will conducted by telephone or video-conferencing and the public must be able to join in the electronic conferencing in order to listen to or observe he meeting. And, if the members of the public body are physically gathered but cannot allow members of the public to be present because of emergency limitations, then the public body must take steps to allow the public to similarly take part.
When the public is participating virtually, members of the body must help the public understand the proceedings. For example, each speaker in the meeting should identify herself by name before speaking or voting so remote listeners or observers can more readily know who is speaking, likewise, each motion should be clearly stated and each vote tally clearly announced.
Further more, executive sessions must be clearly explained at the outset of a meeting, there must be no cost to the public and there must be a method for distributing any agenda or other written materials, and these must be explained.