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Salisbury council aiming for return to in-person meetings in July

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council is the last remaining municipal body in the county without any sort of in-person meeting option. Though they’re aiming to change that for the July 20 meeting, it’s likely the public will continue participating virtually for the forseeable future.

Council members discussed the issue during the May 18 meeting prior to setting a June 1 public hearing for the 2021-22 budget. Council members ultimately voted to host the meeting virtually, but agreed to continue looking into the capability of a safe in-person return for the July 20 meeting.

The primary concerns for abstaining from in-person meetings is a potential for a surge in COVID-19 transmissions later this year and inadequate space for locals to attend while seated at least 6 feet apart.

Mayor Karen Alexander told the Post an in-person ceremony held last month honoring the Stanback family and naming the new park “Bell Tower Green at Stanback Square” could only fit 23 socially distanced seats total in the city council chambers. She added there have been times when the council agenda requires 16 or more city staff members to be present, which leaves only a handful of seats for the public.

For months, the Historic Preservation Commission has held in-person meetings in the city council chambers and allowed for public attendance.

Additionally, Alexander and council member Tamara Sheffield said the county’s low vaccination rate compared to the state is another concern. As of Friday, the state reported a total of 40,962 Rowan Countians, or 28.8%, have received the first dose of the vaccine, while 36,500, or 25.7%, have been fully vaccinated. Across the state, 4.39 million North Carolinians have received at least the first dose, while 37.5% are fully vaccinated.

Council members agreed there’s no rush for an in-person return despite craving the synergy experienced when members are gathered.

“If there’s any discomfort on the council, then I think we should honor that,” council member Brian Miller said. “Another two meetings of going virtual isn’t going to make any difference.”

In addition to a potential surge, Councilman David Post said he is concerned that vaccinated individuals can still transmit the virus despite having no, or very minor, symptoms. For that reason, he’d like for all those present in the chamber to be vaccinated, but Alexander said the council is unlikely to get involved in the issue of requesting or asking about vaccination status.

Alexander said it’s expected council members will reconvene in-person for the July 20 meeting, with the public, and city staff if they choose, able to participate via Zoom.

Sheffield said virtual meetings have allowed more of the public to participate and engage.

“We have had over 100 people participate in public comments since we’ve gone to a virtual world,” Sheffield said. “I do not think that we have inhibited anyone from speaking. If anything, I think we’ve opened it up to people who could do that. I understand either way is a challenge.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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