EAU CLAIRE — After about 18 months working remotely, the Eau Claire County Board plans to return to in-person meetings in the near future.
County Board Chairman Nick Smiar said the county aims to hold meetings for the County Board and all county committees face-to-face starting Sept. 1.
As chairman, Smiar currently can authorize remote meetings because of an amendment to a county ordinance approved by the County Board in spring 2020, near the start of the pandemic. Smiar has that authority until April 2022 but can announce that he is revoking it at any time, which would bring the county back to in-person meetings.
“It’s simply a matter of declaring, ‘We’re now meeting face-to-face,’” Smiar said.
Before he makes that declaration, Smiar will continue to consult with County Board supervisors and local officials regarding in-person meetings. Smiar said he will also take into account the recommendations from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.
“I want to make sure everyone is fully informed and (has) the opportunity to provide some feedback if he or she wishes to do so,” Smiar said. “We’re trying to do it in a deliberate, planned, stepped fashion.”
If they return, in-person meetings will occur at the Eau Claire County Government Center, 721 Oxford Ave. People who have not been vaccinated must wear a mask in the government center.
Tim Sullivan, Eau Claire County corporation counsel, wrote in an email to the Leader-Telegram that, if face-to-face meetings return, “in-person attendance will likely be required” for supervisors.
Smiar agreed, saying he does not anticipate that a hybrid format will be an option for County Board and committee meetings. That format would entail some supervisors attending in-person and some attending remotely.
The county tried a hybrid format for at least one committee meeting in June, with some members attending in-person and others attending via Webex, the county’s videoconferencing system. However, Smiar said the format presented challenges and confusion.
“We don’t want to have a hybrid (format) going when we really don’t need that, simply because someone prefers the Webex meetings,” Smiar said. “We really have to get back to looking at each other face to face.”
The county hasn’t determined if remote access to meetings via phone or computer will still be an option for members of the public.
Sullivan anticipates that remote access will continue for at least some county meetings, but that determination will be made by county officials.
“It is likely that remote access for the public will continue,” Sullivan wrote in an email. “The infrastructure for continuing remote access to meetings is already in place. This decision on which meetings and how they will be available will most likely be made by the County Administrator (Kathryn Schauf) and the Committee on Administration.”