Brooklyn Park’s City Council has returned to a remote meeting system as Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases continue to increase, with remote meetings starting Nov. 9.

Following the initial outbreak, the council moved to a remote meeting system March 23. The council returned to in-person meetings June 22.

“Given the pandemic rates going up significantly – they’re much higher than they were this spring – it was decided to have the council go back to a virtual session,” Mayor Jeff Lunde said.

“This was done for a variety of reasons: One, is first and foremost, out of respect to the public, we have budget discussions coming up of which typically the public takes part in. And right now, given the pandemic numbers of COVID-19, we couldn’t really say that we could keep everybody safe and socially distanced. This way, by doing a virtual meeting, everyone can take part in the meeting whether they are remote, or maybe somebody that was hesitant to come to a meeting because they were worried about the COVID-19 numbers”

The state recorded 4,900 new COVID-19 cases and a record-breaking 56 deaths Nov. 11.

“It’s kind of hard to ask residents to concentrate on being safe and have public meetings, so we need to eat our own dog food as they say, and lead,” Lunde said.

While the decision to host meetings virtually is ultimately at the mayor’s discretion, Lunde said the decision to move back to a virtual platform was the result of a council consensus. Brooklyn Park’s fire chief, John Cunningham, who heads the city’s COVID and emergency response efforts, was also consulted before making the decision, Lunde said.

There is no specific time frame or COVID case rate statistic that would result in bringing the council back to the in-person meetings, Lunde said.

“In June I think it was – June or July, I can’t remember – we went back to physical meetings,” he said.

“It was consensus that the council felt comfortable. It seemed like maybe things seemed to be settling down. They were opening up restaurants that whole time period, centuries ago. I just felt like things were headed in the right direction. Things were opening up. I think with the governor’s orders yesterday and the numbers heading in a different direction, I think its going to be a tough winter.”

The decision to move back to a remote system also tied in with the city’s approaching budgeting process. “Budget season is when people want to come talk, and say ‘Hey, don’t raise taxes,’ or ‘do cutbacks’ or ‘don’t cut here.’ People really want to take part in those things. So this is just a way to safeguard them,” Lunde said.

While the Nov. 9 meeting and possibly the Nov. 16 meeting will be hosted by conference call, the city is considering a move towards a video-based system for meetings moving forward.

The city does not issue laptops to council members, so it will take some time to determine which interface would work with each councilmember’s technology, according to Lunde. Members will have the option to either video interface or remain in an audio-only capacity, and city staff would have the option to present visual materials in similar fashion to in-person meetings.

Residents who want to participate in city meetings can do so by texting Lunde at 763-424-1555, or by emailing him at jeffrey.lunde@brooklynpark.org with the subject line “Council testimony.”

Conference-call numbers are listed on council agendas, which are available on the city’s website.

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