Gov. Bill Lee orders local governments to resume in-person meetings

Updated: Jun. 24, 2020 at 6:58 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Virtual meetings have become the norm for everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is making local governments get back to work in person. Lee will not renew his executive order permitting virtual meetings by local elected officials, allowing it to expire June 30.

You may wonder why the in-person meeting is important, and transparency is at the heart of that. The Memphis City Council especially has had issues in recent weeks with internet streams of meetings cutting out, preventing the public and the media from listening to the meetings in real time.

The Tennessee Comptroller's office sent out a notice Tuesday to local governments telling them effective July 1 governing bodies must return to conducting meetings in line with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, requiring their physical presence to vote.

Shelby County Commission Chair Mark Billingsley said Wednesday the body is prepared to return to in-person meetings, and plexiglass is being installed in the commission’s main chamber to separate commissioners and other staffers. Members of the media and public will be allowed inside the meeting and told to social distance.

The commission has held a handful of meetings during the pandemic in-person to deal with the county budget.

Memphis City Council chair Patrice Robinson told WMC Action News 5 that her group is still working to determine a place where they can physically meet. The upstairs chamber is too small for adequate social distancing and the downstairs chamber is unavailable because of an existing renovation.

The next scheduled meetings of both bodies will be in person, with the Memphis City Council on July 7 and committees of the Shelby County Commission on July 8.

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