Public finally to be allowed into Duluth City Council meetings again

To be sure, it’s not official until next month. But after two years of keeping their distance from the public like so many other elected officials, the Duluth City Council finally plans to resume meeting face-to-face and allow citizens to attend meetings in person.

The News Tribune carried the overdue news that residents will be permitted back in the council chambers to monitor and address their elected representatives after being restricted from attending in person since March 2020.

After about two years of meeting remotely to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the City Council is expected to return to face-to-face interaction for an April 7 agenda session.

That means members of the public will be welcome to attend council meetings in person, as well.

…The city also plans to offer residents the option of testifying at City Hall from an overflow room, in addition to directly from council chambers, to allow for greater social distancing. The city is no longer requiring masks in municipal buildings, although it continues to recommend them.

Duluth was one of a handful of Minnesota cities that imposed a 30-day mask mandate for residents and businesses again earlier this year, along with Minneapolis and St. Paul. While taxpayers have been able to “attend” city council meetings online, the city council president acknowledges there’s been a disconnect between the public and council.

[Duluth City Council President Arik] Forsman said he’s looking forward to in-person meetings and has mixed feelings about the virtual format in which the council has been forced to operate for the past couple years .

“There’s been both good and bad to it,” he said. “The good thing is that it seems like we’ve had more people attend meetings. I saw a lot of new names that I’d never seen before show up at meetings online.”

“But it’s just not the same as being face to face, in person, looking people in the eye and hearing what they have to say. So, that’s why I’m really excited we’re finally get back to meeting like that,” he said

Residents still too concerned over COVID to show up in person will still have the option to log on virtually. Yet even after two years of holding virtual council meetings with public participation, City Hall admits they still have technical difficulties with the system.

“We’re working through what our technology is capable right now, because we’ve had some glitches and issues with how Webex functions in City Hall,” [Forsman] he said, explaining that some software updates may be required, perhaps resulting in a slight delay with the online capabilities.

All the more reason for citizens to have direct access to government officials in person.