The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority board may hold off on meeting in person for a while longer.
The EDA board of directors remains one of the few public bodies that still holds its meetings remotely, with all members attending via an internet conference service. Chairman Jeff Browne brought up the idea to the board’s executive committee on Friday of returning to in-person meetings. Committee members Browne, Jorie Martin and Greg Harold attended the meeting.
But when the board will resume in-person meetings remains uncertain.
“I am told that we have one board member that will not be vaccinated and won’t be wearing a mask,” Browne said. “We have two, immunocompromised board members who have a higher risk and I am trying to wrestle with the right way to approach that, and I thought the executive committee’s a good start to do that ..."
Browne did not identify the members. One member did contract COVID-19 within the past year but has since fully recovered.
“It’s a concern, I think, and I understand the rights of each individual as well,” Browne said.
The chairman went on to say that more public bodies are returning to in-person meetings.
The Warren County Board of Supervisors holds in-person meetings with members seated to maintain social distance. Supervisors also followed guidelines for gatherings and limited the number of people allowed in the boardroom. The Front Royal Town Council also holds in-person meetings.
The EDA board may not have a choice.
EDA attorney Sharon Pandak acknowledged that the board faces a challenge. Gov. Ralph Northam's emergency order expires June 30, Pandak said. There is no basis for the EDA to continue to be able to hold virtual meetings when Warren County and Front Royal terminate their local states of emergency, she said. However, the state open-meeting rules include a provision that would allow individual members of a public body to attend a meeting remotely if that person or a household member has a medical condition.
But the statute still requires a quorum of the board to be physically in attendance, Pandak said. The EDA board might not have a required quorum at an in-person meeting given the number of members who may not attend because of their risk level and the fact that one member does not plan to get vaccinated or wear a mask, Pandak explained.
Director Jorie Martin suggested that the EDA find a larger meeting space that could allow members to maintain social distance.
“Anyway, those are my thoughts and I was trying to come up with a creative solution that might make everybody feel comfortable because we are all still in our own boat and we have to respect each other,” Martin said.
County Administrator Edwin Daley said the county is going to wait “as long as possible” before ending the local state of emergency. Pandak said she is hopeful that the state will provide guidance on any ongoing mask requirements or other safety measures once the emergency order expires.
Some local governments have put plastic sheets between members of their governing bodies to provide additional protection, Pandak said.
Pandak advised the board that she would need to continue to research the matter.
Browne asked EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson to see if the board could use space in the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission office for its meetings. Daley said the EDA board also may be able to meet in the county boardroom.
The committee also met in closed session to:
• Discuss an employee contract matter.
• Consult with legal counsel about lawsuits and matters concerning Front Royal.
• Discuss the disposition of property at the former Avtex site.