Due to the devastating effects of COVID-19, numerous localities have been declaring states of emergency, and last week, at a livestreamed meeting, Westmoreland County’s Board of Supervisors joined in the chorus.
On March 12, Governor Northam declared a state of emergency for Virginia, directing local governments to prepare for the onset of COVID-19, as well as suggesting the suspension of public gatherings of more than ten people. The next day, President Trump declared a national emergency.
With Westmoreland County doing the same, they passed an ordinance declaring that since the pandemic makes it unsafe to assemble many people in one location for public meetings of groups like the Board of Supervisors, School Board, and so on, these meetings could be held through electronic means, which in the case of this particular meeting, and the School Board meeting the week before, meant livestreaming from Facebook.
Furthermore, deadlines requiring action by any public entity, its officers, or employees are suspended, though they are still encouraged to take action in order to meet original deadlines. Non-emergency public hearings and action items can also be postponed, provided that notice is given to the public about how and when to present any questions or comments.
According to the ordinance, the provisions of it are to remain in effect for 60 days, unless it is decided if more time needs to be added or for it to be rescinded. It cannot last more than six months, however. Nothing prohibits an in-person public meeting from taking place, provided that proper social distancing is applied.
County Attorney and State Senator Richard Stuart summed the situation up thusly: “Anything that can be postponed must be; only do the things you have to.”
With the ordinance passed, expect many more meetings to be livestreamed until further notice.