State To Extend Order Allowing Virtual Government Meetings

Monday, June 29, 2020 - by Judy Frank

One day after Signal Mountain officials went public with the problems they would face if council members and other officials were required to meet in person rather than electronically, the state has informed the town virtual meetings will be allowed for another 60 days.

The Hamilton County Commission, which had planned an in-person session on Wednesday, instead will continue to meet electronically at 9:30 a.m.

Signal Mountain Mayor Dan Landrum – who had contacted Lang Wiseman, deputy and chief counsel to the governor asking that the state extend the electronic meetings portion of the executive order beyond its July 1 expiration date – said he got good news Monday morning.

It made the mayor’s day.

“The expiration of the executive order (allowing virtual meetings of government bodies during the coronavirus pandemic would have put) an end to a municipality’s ability to hold electronic meetings,” he said this past weekend. “If a municipality allowed someone who called in to participate, whether it be a discussion or a vote, that vote could be challenged and overturned. A person calling in to listen would not count toward a quorum, or even as attending.”

The email Mayor Landrum said he received early Monday postponed concerns such as that for the next two months.

“Thanks for your email,” Mr. Wiseman wrote in a memo to the mayor. “The governor will be issuing an order today extending the remote meetings provisions for another 60 days.”  

That email contradicted a memorandum sent out last week by the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury to local officials across Tennessee.

It was signed by Justin P. Wilson, comptroller of the treasury, and Jason E. Mumpower, deputy comptroller.

“Please be advised that Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order No. 34 granting local bodies the ability to conduct essential business by electronic means is set to expire on June 30, 2020,” that memo began.

“Governor Lee has indicated to our office that he does not intend to extend this authority beyond that date,” officials wrote.

Beginning July 1, members of local governing bodies in Tennessee “must be physically present to participate and vote,” according to the memo.

The threatened prohibition on virtual meetings concerned high-risk public officials such as Signal Mountain Council Member Bill Lusk between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Mr. Lusk – who suffers from diabetes and consequently is at high risk of severe complications if he gets the virus – said he thinks it’s unreasonable to require government officials to put in a physical appearance at public meetings where they could be exposed to COVID-19.

“I won’t be going (to town meetings) unless we limit the number of attendees and have at least six feet distances between council members,” he said flatly.


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