Oberlin test-drives virtual Council meetings

Oberlin City Council and administrators use the online platform Zoom to stream a special meeting on Wednesday, April 1.


OBERLIN — Using webcams, City Council members met in cyberspace for the first time ever last Wednesday night, casting emergency votes from home.

Oberlin officials were among the first in Lorain County to test-drive virtual meetings.

There were some hiccups in the rollout — speakers’ words were periodically drowned out by bursts of static, and the stream went choppy on occasion.

The Ohio Open Meetings Act normally requires officials to attend meetings in person, but that rule has been relaxed by the General Assembly during the coronavirus pandemic.

“These are challenging times for each one of us. We find strength in community. Together, we will weather this storm,” Council President Linda Slocum said at the start of the session.

Public bodies must still conduct their business openly. Oberlin Law Director Jon Clark said residents must still be able to hear and observe meetings.

Ohio law does not require councils and boards to allow the public to speak. There was no hearing of the public in Wednesday’s meeting, but Slocum said the city is working on a protocol to allow residents to participate in virtual sessions.

Council used the online meeting to approve an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 39. Its members keep the city’s electric, water, wastewater treatment and trash collection operations running.

Those jobs can’t be done from home, so Oberlin is putting workers on staggered shifts to limit the odds that COVID-19 could put them all out of commission.

The workers have been split into two teams, trading off shifts every week for at least 30 days.

Council also approved a $60,000 contract with Neighborhood Alliance to provide senior services to Oberlin residents.

It also voted to make some changes to the $40.6 million budget for 2020. They include money to repair the fire department’s ladder truck, replace the East College Street sanitary sewer, enclose the West Hamilton Street ditch and refurbish the city’s street sweeper.