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Salem officials test using Zoom for video-conferenced council meetings

SALEM — Salem City Council may join a growing list of local governments, organizations and schools using the Zoom video conferencing program to meet over the Internet.

“I’m pretty excited for it,” council President Tom Baker said.

With Ohio under a state of emergency and social distancing ordered due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, entities are exploring safer ways to meet while also keeping the meetings accessible to the public.

Under new rules passed by the state legislature, public bodies can meet via teleconference or video conference during a state of emergency and members can legally vote and be counted as present for quorum, as long as the public has access.

Baker said Mayor John Berlin spoke with him about the possibility of using Zoom after speaking with Columbiana officials who tested it out. He was referred to a trainer used by the city of Columbiana regarding the program.

On Monday, Baker, Berlin, the trainer and Baker’s wife, Macy, tried a test run and Baker said “it seemed like it was going to work pretty good.”

His wife will serve as the host since she’s not participating in the meeting. Baker said she holds her book club this way and used Zoom for some of her college classes. The public will be able to attend using a phone, tablet or computer and logging in using a password which will be advertised. He did say if using a phone or tablet, a free Zoom app will need to be downloaded.

“I think it’s what’s going to make the most sense,” Baker said.

They’ll also be able to record the meeting and place it on the city website for all to see the next day. He said that was one of the big questions they had.

The next council meeting is tentatively set for 7 p.m. April 7. At this point, Baker isn’t sure if there’s anything on the agenda that has to be handled, but if they need to have a meeting, they’ll be able to do it safely.

“We’re still searching for answers but I think it will work,” Berlin said.

He said Columbiana did a dry run with their council last week and the city manager provided Berlin with a contact who’s accomplished with Zoom. She set up the practice run. Another practice run will be conducted with council members later this week. When the meeting becomes definite, the information the public needs to join the meeting will be announced.

The public will have the ability to have their voices heard during the public portion of the meeting.

Berlin said the city secured a license for Zoom meetings, allowing the holding of meetings for $15 per month through a one-year subscription. If other city meetings are necessary, such as a council committee meeting or special meeting, they’ll be able to use Zoom, too. He noted the idea will be to use Zoom only when necessary to approve legislation related to a contract or finances during the stay-at-home order.

“Everything is important in city government, but there are some things that can be put off until later,” he said.

City hall remains closed to the public, but the government continues to operate with calls being forwarded to city officials and many employees working from home or working in shifts.

Berlin said links have been placed on the city website at www.cityofsalemohio.org with COVID-19 information and the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center which has been posting information that businesses need to know at this time.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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