The Purcellville Town Council this week agreed to cancel meetings of its community advisory committees through next week because of the high COVID transmission rates.
That action at the Jan. 12 meeting followed a debate over whether to declare a local state of emergency because of the surge of the virus that has caused a record number of cases in recent weeks. One Town Council member attended the meeting electronically because he was isolating at home after he and his family tested positive.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Nan Joseph Forbes strongly supported the emergency declaration so that town meetings could be held electronically, without the requirement to have a quorum of members gathered in a public meeting space.
However, Town Attorney Sally Hankins raised concerns that electronic meetings may not be authorized because the statewide emergency declaration that authorized public business to be conducted in that fashion during much of the pandemic was no longer in effect. The commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act allows electronic meetings for a local emergency only if the catastrophic nature of the declared emergency makes it impractical or unsafe to assemble a quorum in a single location and if the purpose of the meeting is to provide for the continuity of operations of the public body or the discharge of its duties.
Forbes said that the age of commissioners and the health concerns of their family members make gathering in public a significant concern.
“I think this is a no brainer and I can’t understand why we can’t have an emergency declaration to have an emergency meeting. I’m baffled,” Forbes said.
Rather than declaring an official emergency, the council agreed to cancel town meetings planned during the following two weeks and to reassess the situation at its next meeting.
Under the action, the meetings of the Train Station Advisory Board, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and Planning Commission were canceled.
Meanwhile, town hall will remain closed to visitors through Jan. 31. Town offices will be staffed during normal business hours, with in-person meetings to be accommodated on a case-by-case basis.
Contact information for each of the town departments is available at purcellvilleva.gov. The main phone line for Town Hall is (540) 338-7421. General inquiries and issues may be submitted via the Town’s Online Citizen Issue Form or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.