The City of Hendersonville will begin holding hybrid Board of Mayor and Aldermen meetings Jan. 26 with the option for aldermen and citizens to attend in-person or virtually. Mayor Jamie Clary’s motion to hold hybrid meetings until BOMA decides otherwise was unanimously approved in the Jan. 12 BOMA meeting.
Governor Bill Lee has extended his executive order allowing governing bodies to hold remote meetings through Feb. 27.
In recent meetings, some citizens have asked BOMA for a return to in-person or hybrid meetings, pointing out that Sumner County is doing hybrid meetings. They have also mentioned concerns with citizens not being able to make comments due to technological issues.
Clary said that he did not have an exact number of how many people would be allowed to attend in person, but said that the number would probably be 20-30 staff and visitors.
Citizen comments will take a hybrid form as well with citizens being able to speak in person or electronically, Clary said.
The City tried the hybrid meeting method for a special-called Public Works Committee meeting Jan. 12. The aldermen on the committee attended in person, but other aldermen and speakers attended through Zoom. That meeting, and future hybrid meetings will be live-streamed on YouTube and Channel 3, according to Mary Beth Ippich, information technology director.
Ippich said that there was only one piece of hardware missing to allow the City to conduct hybrid meetings, and this piece cost less than $250.
She said that the process to get to hybrid meetings required building on each stage of the virtual BOMA meetings. Zoom came first which allowed the City to live-stream on YouTube. Then, upgraded equipment allowed for live-streaming on Channel 3.
Ippich said a hybrid solution had always been discussed but overcoming feedback in the Main Meeting Room was a challenge.
Mayor Jamie Clary said that during the hybrid Public Works Committee meeting which he attended in person, there were no electronic problems.
“I was waiting for the kinks to happen,” Clary said. “Even when we tested, there were no kinks.”
When committees start to use hybrid meetings is up to the aldermen, Ippich said. She said the City currently has only one license from Zoom that allows meetings over 40 minutes. The City can have multiple 30-minute meetings at the same time, but those meetings will end after 30 minutes. However, the City can purchase additional Zoom licenses for a “minimal cost,” according to Ippich.
Ippich said that all conference rooms in City Hall have cameras and can participate in Zoom meetings. Multiple meetings can be livestreamed on YouTube but only one at a time on Channel 3.
“There were many expensive solutions being discussed…, but my team never gave up,” Ippich said. “We were able to overcome most of the obstacles using trial and error, and getting the right pieces in place.”
Ippich said that citizens can register to speak online and specify if they will be speaking in person or virtually. They can also register when they arrive at City Hall.
After the mayor and his staff figure out exactly how many people can fit in the meeting room, the City will publish that information online to "stress the limitations" due to CDC and local guidelines, Ippich said.
The full Sumner County Commission had been holding its monthly meetings in-person until the Nov. 16 meeting had to be rescheduled because several commissioners had either tested positive for COVID-19 or were quarantining.
County leaders met using the hybrid format on Nov. 30 with 15 members attending in person and eight attending electronically.
The Sumner County Board of Education met in March and April via Zoom and has been holding in-person meetings since May, 2020.
Reporter Tena Lee contributed to this story.