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New ‘public’ meetings still need public input

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we’ve made many changes in the daily operations of the City of Minot – none more unfortunate than temporarily restricting access to our public meetings.

It was a decision we made only after considerable discussion among City leaders and Council leadership, even though Gov. Doug Burgum had waived the requirement of providing a physical space for members of the public at public meetings. Restricting access to public meetings, even temporarily, is something we wish wasn’t necessary, but the decision was made to protect members of the public and our employees during this pandemic. Social distancing is an important tool against the spread of coronavirus, so having as few people as possible at these meetings makes good sense.

Yet, as we continue to follow the advice of health care experts, we want to do everything possible to help Minot residents and others continue their participation in City Council or Planning Commission meetings.

Government is most effective when members of the public are actively involved. As elected members of the City Council, we rely on public input to help us make well-informed decisions. Whether we personally agree or not with every opinion or bit of information provided to us, it’s still critical that we’re able to gather that information to consider. Not having members of the public in attendance at City Council meetings makes the much-needed interaction between elected leaders and residents difficult, to say the least.

But there are ways residents can continue to be part of the process, and we encourage everyone to participate. Agendas for City Council meetings are posted on the City of Minot website at minotnd.org on the Wednesday before regular Monday meetings.

All City Council and Planning Commission meetings are broadcast live on the City of Minot’s Facebook page and on the City’s Youtube channel. The meetings can also be watched on cable channel 19. It’s not exactly the same as being in attendance in Council chambers, but it’s the next best thing during these times of necessary change.

As always, you can reach out to the members of the City Council by telephone or by email. All of that information can be found on the City’s website at www.minotnd.org/252/City-Council. As mayor for nearly two years now, I know our residents aren’t shy about sharing their opinions – both positive and negative – of City projects and issues. That’s a good thing, and it’s how government is supposed to work – a collaboration between elected officials and those who elected them. All the members of Council are accustomed to hearing from concerned citizens about construction projects, budget issues, and many other City topics. We want and need that personal interaction to continue even if it can’t actually be done in person right now. However you’re comfortable in sharing your opinion or information with elected leaders or City officials, please continue to communicate with us.

As another way of gathering public input, we’ve created a new Public Comment Portal on the City of Minot website, which allows users to fill out an online form to communicate electronically with members of the City Council. The form allows users to comment on any agenda item; forms should be submitted by noon on the day of Council meetings to make sure the information can be collected and presented to Council members before that day’s 5:30 p.m. meeting.

It’s certainly odd to look out at City Council chambers from our seats on the dais and see chairs placed strategically around the room to adhere to the six-foot social distancing recommendation. The dais is getting a little lonely, with some Council members and City officials attending meetings on the phone and the rest of us spread out to practice good social distancing. It’s even stranger to look out and see only a few people in attendance; often there are only a few members of the media there, along with select City department heads who have business before the Council that day.

I know these changes are necessary right now, but I certainly look forward to the day when we can safely and responsibly have a full house again at Council meetings. When will our meetings be open to the public again? Well, that’s hard to say. Obviously it depends on when we see fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases. It also depends on what’s included in plans from the state and the City on reinstituting “normal.” Returning to normal won’t be like flipping a light switch; it will likely happen gradually, and it will take time to fully return to normal.

In the meantime, stay home whenever you can, keep supporting local businesses in a safe manner, practice good social distancing if you’re out in public, wash your hands, and stay healthy.

Sincerely, City Hall

You can find more about what’s happening at the City of Minot at minotnd.org, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. We’d also encourage you to sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter on our website.

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