City Council discusses future of hybrid meeting format

Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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During its Feb. 21 meeting, the Winters City Council mulled over the continuation of its virtual meeting system.

Briefly, City Manager Kathleen Salguero Trepa reminded the council that virtual meetings were a product of the pandemic, allowing councilmembers to video call into meetings and the public to participate remotely. Trepa noted that “public participation has gone up significantly in the pandemic with remote access.”

“The state legislature has passed a bill and the governor has signed it that’s referred to as AB 2449,” which is similar to the law that first allowed public meetings to be held remotely, as it allows “a hybrid platform and rules for people to participate…in a meeting remotely, but it has different rules than (the previous law),” Trepa said.

Firstly, councilmembers and commissioners are allotted two conditional absences from their in-person meetings, as well as emergency absences. In addition, the city can decide whether to continue with a true hybrid system that makes virtual broadcasting necessary for the continuation of the meeting or a system that allows for virtual participation but virtual broadcasting is only a convenience for participation.

Meaning if they choose the hybrid system and technical difficulties disrupt the live stream, the meeting would have to stop until the difficulties were fixed. With remote access as a convenience, the public could attend and participate remotely, but the council wouldn’t be forced to stop if a glitch occurs. 

Technical difficulties have occurred recently. The Jan. 10 meeting had to be in person only because of an issue with the recording system, and the audio for the Feb. 7 meeting wasn’t recorded, leaving no electronic archive.

Community members Kate Laddish and Ken Britton expressed support for the accessibility that virtual resources have provided to them and other Winters residents. Laddish shared about a county initiative, SB 411, that allows legislative bodies with appointed members to continue using a virtual meeting system. Britton spoke on how virtual meetings helped to reduce city officials’ carbon footprint.  

Councilmember Carol Scianna stated her support for the video option as a convenience so they wouldn’t have to cancel meetings due to a glitch and would still allow the community to participate and watch. 

Mayor Pro Tempore Albert Vallecillo agreed and inquired on how SB 411 would interact with the decision. Trepa explained that SB 411 doesn’t overlap with the expiring public emergency measure that allowed for virtual meetings, and noted that there is a difference between the City Council and Planning Commission meetings and the other city committees.

Trepa said there is a strain on city staff when they run multiple hybrid meetings a week and the technology would require extra effort on their part. She did say things may change once SB 411 is passed, and that councilmembers could revisit the discussion once it passes. 

Councilmember Richard Casavecchia asked if there was “a functional difference between Zoom as a convenience and full hybrid platform for us?” 

Trepa answered that “there’s no functional difference, we still have to go through the same effort, the only difference is the legal requirement where Zoom is a convenience we don’t have to stop the meeting if we have a technology interruption.”

Council did not have to take action but did express agreement to go back to traditional meetings and to utilize Zoom as a convenience for City Council and Planning Commission meetings only. The other commissions will meet in person only, effective March 1.

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