By Jessica Mathews /

The Howell City Council is moving back to in-person meetings this month.

The council earlier adopted an emergency resolution to allow virtual meetings through May 31st. At a recent meeting, Council agreed to let that current order sunset and meet in chambers in the basement of City Hall on June 14th – which will also be closer to expected orders from the state lifting restrictions. It was stated they’ll continue watching trends and guidance from the state and health department but it looks as though restrictions will be eliminated come July 1st. If the trajectory somehow changes and goes south, then it was noted Council has time to change course and convene a special session to implement a temporary state of emergency if things go drastically in the wrong direction.

There is a set capacity designation for the downstairs area where Council meets that’s determined by the fire marshal and current orders restrict capacity to half of that. There were some concerns expressed about being forced to adjourn an in-person meeting if a bunch of people show up and exceed the allowed capacity.

Councilman Bob Ellis commented that there is still a very high risk for contagion for people who aren’t immunized and he was ok with terminating the emergency so long as they have a contingency plan in place if there’s a large turnout. He noted the latest guidance from the state stipulated that the maximum meeting size for public bodies is 25 people, 30 people per 1,000 square feet, or 50% of room capacity established by the fire marshal. Ellis said he just didn’t want to get into any situation where they would be violating state orders.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jan Lobur wasn’t too concerned about having overly crowded meetings. She commented that it would only be one month until new guidance is issued by the state and there aren’t any hot agenda items. She noted that the number of participants hasn’t been over 35 the whole time Council has been meeting virtually, which has been great but not overcrowded. Pre-COVID, she said they were lucky to get 20 participants coming to meetings and that included staff. Lobur said she thinks they need to get back to normal and was afraid a hybrid model would cost the City too much.

City Attorney Dennis Perkins said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is due to issue a new order on July 1st based on findings. Based on what he’s been seeing at the courthouse and hearing from the Legislature, Perkins said they very well could be in full bloom mode come July 1st. He added if there is a hot button issue, they could always move a meeting to the rec center.

There was some talk of hybrid meetings but City Manager Erv Suida cautioned that would take some capital and planning and quite a bit of effort on the staff’s part. He said it’s not as easy as just throwing a tv up on the second floor for overflow but a little more difficult and would definitely take some capital expense. Mayor Nick Proctor and some others agreed it’s probably not a wise expenditure at this time. Proctor said he was very comfortable with giving in-person meetings a try in three weeks, adding by then the number of vaccinations will have increased. He said staff has already spaced chairs six feet apart throughout Council chambers and in the back area of the room where people might not be able to see council but could still hear. It was also noted that City staff would no longer attend meetings unless they had something on the agenda, which would also cut down on the number of people. Signage is also posted regarding mask requirements.

Since the emergency resolution was permitted to expire, other bodies such as the Downtown Development Authority Board, Planning Commission and Library board can resume in-person meetings.