Council will meet by video as emergency

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Photo by Erin Achenbach

Seventh District Councilman Mark Harder and 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch nominate 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas to serve as presiding officer of the St. Louis County Council at a May 2019 meeting.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The St. Louis County Council is scheduled to meet for the first time ever by video this week after a state of emergency was declared at all levels of government due to the coronavirus, or COVID-19. The council was set to meet Tuesday night — after The Call went to press.

Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, called an emergency meeting of the council Friday to pass new rules that allow the council to meet by video due to emergencies like the current pandemic.

No one from the public was allowed to attend the 10-minute emergency meeting.

Six council members attended in person, sitting 6 feet apart on the dais as is officially recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, which had infected 55 St. Louis Countians by week’s end.

County Clerk Diann Valenti stood at the podium where the public typically stands to make comments, which is 6 feet away
from the dais. Third District Councilman Tim Fitch, R-Fenton, attended by phone.

Other cities like Green Park have canceled all city meetings for the next month.

But the county requires the council to meet a certain number of times a year, only allowing for roughly four weekly meetings to be missed for any reason.

Now council members will be able to meet by videoconference, with the public submitting written comments that will be read aloud during the meeting by the county clerk.

“It is essential that the legislative branch of county government continues to function,” Clancy said, but at the same time the council has to deal with “this new reality in which we now find ourselves.”

Sixth District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, applauded Clancy “for her leadership and tireless efforts” to make the emergency legislation happen on what was supposed to be the council’s spring break week.

“It is incumbent on this council to be ever vigilant in assuring that its actions do not encroach on civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution,” Trakas said. “A real and present conflict exists between the enforcement of public health measures and an infringement of individual rights and liberties those measures carry with them.”

Rep. Jim Murphy objected that Friday’s meeting wasn’t given 24 hours’ notice.

The council originally offered legislation that would allow written public comments that would not be read at the meetings.

After frequent commenter Tom Sullivan of University City objected, the final version of the legislation changed.

The meeting will not be livestreamed on the council’s YouTube page, but will be streamed by phone. To listen at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, call 1-415-655-0001 and use the access code 473-599-239 to connect to a listener-only line.

Comments are read that were submitted to councilcomments@stlouisco.com up to an hour before the meeting.