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De Pere common council discusses resuming in-person meetings

By Rich Palzewic
Staff Writer

DE PERE – The De Pere Common Council discussed resuming in-person meetings for council and committees, boards and commissions at its Tuesday, July 21, meeting.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council has been meeting virtually for several months.

Alder Dean Raasch asked for in-person meetings to begin Sept 1.

“I think it’s important the council is in the chambers together,” said Raasch. “I looked at various cities/villages in Wisconsin, and there are a number of them meeting in person. It’s a mixed bag. There would be benefits to getting our committees meeting back in-person.”

Mayor James Boyd said he agreed with Raasch.

“We’ve been looking at options and trying to decide when the time is right,” Boyd said. “We want everyone here badly. That’s the struggle, but I’m glad we’re talking about it.”

Larry Delo, city administrator, said modifications would have to be made for in-person meetings.

“We’ve evaluated possible layouts in the council chambers,” Delo said. “If we used the council chambers, we’d have to possibly restrict how many members of the public could attend the meeting. We’d have to modify the layout to keep people socially distanced. Giving the virtual option like we are now would be a good idea, too. It appears we’ve had more people getting involved in our meetings, because we have that option now. We’ll have to secure some additional equipment like microphones and tables for in-person.”

Raasch said he agreed on continuing to offer the meetings virtually.

“In the past, when a council member hasn’t been able to make an in-person meeting, we’ve had them participate virtually,” he said. “We need to keep that option.”

Judy Schmidt-Lehman, city attorney, weighed in on the legalities of the issue.

“If there’s going to be an in-person meeting with a quorum of the government bodies, the public has the right to access the meeting,” she said. “Right now, there are no in-person meetings, so we don’t have to worry about it. People have the virtual option. When we begin in-person meetings, that option has to be available to everyone. The open-meetings law wouldn’t allow us to limit the number of people if they want to participate.”

Schmidt-Lehman said if the chamber was filled with elected officials and there was no room for the public to participate, that would be an issue.

“If people want to participate online, we’ll certainly keep that option,” she said. “What happens if we have an agenda item that’s of great importance and we didn’t have enough space for participation? Right now, due to social distancing, the fire department has calculated the capacity of the chamber at 32 people. For most council agendas, that’s fine.”

The resolution, which targets a Sept. 1 beginning date for in-person meetings to resume (along with the virtual option), passed unanimously.

In other news

In other action, the council approved the removal of old bricks from the James Street reconstruction project for personal use.

The old brick is being replaced by concrete.

Staff will advertise the free bricks on the city website and Facebook.

Advertising for the bricks will be directed toward De Pere residents, but officials said they won’t check residency.

Interested parties should contact engineering, which will mark the limits of brick removal.

On behalf of the police department, the council accepted a $2,500 donation earmarked for the purchase of High Gear tactical suits to protect the wearer during defense and arrest tactics training the department conducts regularly.

Another $1,500 donation was accepted from De Pere Christian Outreach to the police department for its K9 fundraising efforts.

The De Pere K9 unit is funded primarily through community donations, and the funds pay for the purchase of the dog, the training for the dog and handler, expenses for ongoing training and overtime for K9-related events.

On a recommendation from the finance/personnel committee, the council also approved increasing the hours of the public health nurse position from 24 hours to 40 hours per week.

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