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City of Destin Votes To Allow Virtual Public Meetings

Jennie McKeon

Destin City Council met for a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss and vote on how the council will conduct business during the coronavirus pandemic. 

It’s a conversation many local governments are having amid social distancing practices and the stay-at-home order Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Wednesday. The order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday. 

Councilmembers voted unanimously to permit the use of communications media technology to attend city meetings for appointed council and city staff or contractors. The resolution also allows for public comments to be sent to the council by mail or email at least 24 hours before scheduled meetings.

At Destin’s Tuesday meeting, already two councilmembers, Skip Overdier and Steven Menchel, were practicing telecommuting as they attended via video conferencing. 

“This is weird,” said Mayor Gary Jarvis as he took votes by roll call. “I’ll get used to it.” 

As most business operations throughout the state have gone remote, council meetings won’t be fully remote. Jarvis said he plans to attend meetings in person, and the city will still need someone to manage the microphone for anyone who wishes to address the council.

To ensure the public has access to meetings and comments, City Attorney Kyle Bauman said state statutes mandate meetings would still need a physical location until logistics are worked out to create a virtual space for public comments.

“Right now, under Chapter 120 Florida Statutes, it looks like the proper procedure is to provide a physical access point for the public to come to and make comments,” he said. 

“That’s something that needs to be ironed out,” said Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell. “Figuring how we adapt to include public comment in meetings where we want to be remote, obviously that’s a critical and crucial piece of our public meetings.” 

Other discussion items included sending a letter to Gov. DeSantis asking for clarification on last week’s order barring short-term rentals such as Airbnbs, from making new reservations or bookings. 

“He did a start date but didn’t put an end date,” said Jarvis. “Right now, it’s putting our staff and other cities’ staff in a precarious position. We need to ask the governor how long this will run, just so we have an answer so our staff and code enforcement can tell STR (short-term rental agencies) what’s going on.” 

The city will also extend short-term registration rental fees from March 31 to May 31. 

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.