County government will be getting back to some kind of normal in September if COVID-19 case numbers stay on their current track.
After their normal August recess, Loudoun supervisors plan to end an emergency ordinance that has had them meeting electronically, taking public comment in phone calls, and relaxing normal deadlines since March.
As the county’s response to the pandemic began, supervisors adopted an emergency ordinance to hold their public meetings electronically, limiting their need to gather in one place. The ordinance, which is still in effect, also relaxes some timelines on the county government, including how quickly county staff members must respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, as the government grapples with both the emergency response and the strains it places on its limited staffing during social distancing protocols.
Supervisors would go on to conduct much of their normal business under the emergency ordinance, including ceremonial resolutions, public hearings, and other functions that do not pertain directly to the pandemic. Attorney General Mark Herring, who first advised public bodies could meet electronically if “the purpose of the meeting is to address the emergency,” would later revise his guidance to include many of the normal functions of government, and later yet the General Assembly codified that ability with amendments to government transparency law.
County attorneys have cited state law allowing local government to “provide a method to assure continuity in its government, in the event of an enemy attack or other disaster” for up to six months. That will mean the local emergency ordinance expires in September.
But if the COVID-19 numbers locally do as they have in other states—with infections, hospitalizations and deaths spiking as responses to the pandemic fall short—Loudoun supervisors could pass a new emergency ordinance in September, extending the electronic meetings, County Attorney Leo Rogers pointed out. Loudoun and the state remain under a state of emergency.
“At some point we need to get back to some semblance of normalcy and figure out how to live with the virus if our hospital numbers are down, if we have enough PPE, all the things that we needed to have when we started this way of meeting that we didn’t have before,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
However, one product of the emergency meetings could continue—Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) suggested the county continue to allow the public to speak to supervisors by calling into meetings, without having to be physically present in the boardroom.
“I think this is definitely something we can look into, since we’ve been doing it for these last few months, and it will bring a little bit more transparency, allow some more citizens who physically could not be here in the room to speak to do so,” Saines said.