Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

County board opts against Zoom, will record meetings

HURLEY — The Iron County Board of Supervisors and its various committees will continue to meet in person, while giving individuals an opportunity to attend remotely, after a motion to switch entirely to Zoom meetings failed to get enough support for a vote Tuesday.

Supervisor Anne McComas proposed the switch to completely remote meetings due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying she didn’t think it was safe for the county board and its committees to meet in the boardroom in the county courthouse.

“Having been elected by the people of the town of Sherman, I shouldn’t have to choose between protecting my (family members with compromised immune systems) and providing the service (the voters) entrusted to me,” McComas said prior to making her motion to use Zoom.

McComas argued that data shows the pandemic is largely out of control in Wisconsin and said she has been attending a number of meetings remotely as she has relatives with weakened immune systems who will likely die if they become infected with the virus.

“So far, administrators have tried to accommodate me by allowing me to participate from home by partial Zoom while the rest of the committee members gather together in the small board room,” McComas said. “This is not an adequate alternative to going full Zoom where each committee member has his or her own camera and microphone.”

She said attending in-person meetings remotely has several drawbacks — including it being hard to tell who is speaking, she often can’t get the chair’s attention without yelling when she wants to say something and the meetings are just hard to follow. She called that method of participation “basically useless.”

The benefits of adopting Zoom for all meetings, according McComas, included it being easier to see facial features and reactions over video than across a room, better audio due to individual microphones, the participants are labeled so it’s clear who is who and the county would ultimately save money as it wouldn’t be reimbursing mileage.

It wasn’t included in her motion, but McComas also spoke in favor of having all committee meetings take place in the Iron County Memorial Building where Tuesday’s county board meeting was held.

Although McComas favored remote meetings, several other county board members spoke about issues they’ve had when Zoom has been used elsewhere and

“We use Zoom for the city of Montreal, it’s the biggest mess you’ve ever seen,” supervisor Bill Thomas said, adding that Montreal is a smaller body than the county board and the issues would likely be worse with the more people involved.

“I’ve had some pretty bad experiences with Zoom meetings too,” board chairman Joe Pinardi said.

Other objections to Zoom meetings raised in the meeting included a lack of internet at home, the need to train people on different methods of using the technology depending on what device they use and the appearance of having county employees work in-person while the board doesn’t bear the same risks. Clerk Mike Saari also said the county’s zoning department was warned that if there was any litigation stemming from actions taken at a meeting attended remotely, the personal devices used to watch the meeting via Zoom could be seized as part of the process.

The lack of internet at the Memorial Building also means anyone who wanted to attend remotely while everyone else was in-person — which was dubbed the partial-Zoom option during the meeting — wouldn’t be able to attend if committee meetings were held there instead of the county board room.

Although the board was against remote meetings, they did vote 12-2 that the board should resume recording its meetings. The vote came after several board members expressed a desire for the meetings to be recorded in case there are questions in the future about what specifically was said during a discussion.

Saari said his minutes generally only reflect who made and seconded motions and how the board voted.

Supervisors Thomas and Scott Erickson voted against the measure. Supervisor Ken Saari wasn’t present at the meeting.

Although it wasn’t included in the vote, the board reached a consensus the county should purchase recording equipment costing approximately $40 to see if that meets the board’s needs before pursuing a more expensive set-up.

In other action, the board:

—Heard from Iron County’s corporation counsel, Tim Dean, regarding what state law required for the hiring process in the health department. Dean said the county’s method of having

Health Officer Katie Hampston hire the other members of the department was legal. Supervisor Tanner Hiller argued there were conflicting state laws and advocated for creating an ordinance spelling out the hiring process. Although there seemed to be some support for drafting an ordinance, several board members felt if anything, it should be done in the future and a current vacancy in the department needed to be filled rather than held empty until the ordinance process is complete so the department is fully staffed during the pandemic.

—Approved Pinardi’s appointments to the county’s health committee. Supervisor Brandon Snyder cast the lone vote against the measure.

—Approved a one-year contract with the county’s road deputies, including a 2% increase in salary.

—Passed a resolution allowing the county’s Land and Water Conservation Department to apply for various cost-sharing grants, as well as a resolution approving various budget amendments to the 2020 budget.

—Purchased a new 2019 1-ton Dodge truck as a plow truck for the courthouse at a cost of $30,000. The board voted to use the former emergency management vehicle as a trade-in, once it’s replaced, rather than the other plow truck the county owns. The board decided to keep the other plow truck as it only has 7,000 miles on it and, although it has had repeated electrical issues, it’s still under warranty.

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