St. Landry Parish Council President Dexter Brown. (File photo)
Parish Council mulls virtual meetings
At the end of nearly two hours of Zoom meeting, St. Landry Parish Council members discussed their virtual meetings and COVID-19.
The discussion about whether to meet virtually or not hasn’t been the rule.
The Parish Council has been on and off about virtual meetings. For the Council, virtual has meant audio only and without public input.
The St. Landry Parish School Board has returned to in-person meetings, but with social distancing. When the School Board met virtually it was using Zoom with audio, video and public input.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Eunice Board of Aldermen skipped one meeting due to COVID-19 in March 2020, but has met in-person since then.
“Are we legal by having these Zoom meetings? How much longer can we continue going like this?” asked Parish Council member Wayne Ardoin at Wednesday’s meeting.
“That’s a good question,” replied Garrett Duplechain, the Council’s attorney. “There are legal requirements that have to be met. I believe we are meeting the requirements.”
The Council would be on more “comfortable legal ground” when it goes back to normal meetings, Duplechain said.
As of Wednesday, the state Department of Health counts 220 deaths due to the virus in St. Landry Parish and 7,562 cases.
Ardoin noted people go to church, and law enforcement officers and firefighters serve every day during the pandemic.
“I just feel as elected officials of St. Landry Parish that we need to look at the situation and possibly have our meetings again in our council room and separate ourselves and get back to the normal business of having meetings like this,” Ardoin said.
Opelousas Council member Dexter Brown, who had just been elected Council chairman, said, “We are going to get together with Mr. Garrett and look a little deeper into that matter. I know we have more room at our Delta Grand than our council chambers.”
Brown said the Delta Grand, which is owned by parish government, could be set up to allow public access by phone and internet.
Ardoin replied, “We spent money, taxpayer’s money, for special microphones so we can have our meetings in the Delta Grand.”
The Council has met in the theater and council chambers since March after Gov. John Bel Edwards issued orders limiting attendance and setting social distancing guidelines for indoor gatherings.
The Council also held meetings using only audio leading to sessions where members grappled with mute and unmute, and other technical issues.
Jerry Red, a Council member from Opelousas, said outbreaks from Thanksgiving and Christmas demonstrate the need to meet virtually.
“We’ve had Council members that have got the coronavirus,” he said.
“We have people with underlying conditions and we don’t want anyone to lose their life for just going to a meeting. If you can do a meeting and do it virtually, I don’t see that there is a problem. “Then when we take this shot or whenever this turns around and gets better we can go and meet together as one,” Red said.
Brown stressed the need to follow CDC guidelines.
“We are going to look into that matter very stringently and we going to make the best choices that there are for everyone involved,” Brown said.
Nancy Carriere, an Opelousas Council member, also stressed the need to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines. But she said a recent Council meeting did not follow the masking guidelines.
Council member Timmy LeJeune said, “I do understand that we possibly have a Council member that could be infected with the virus tonight and that Council member, if I’m in order, it may be Mr. Easton Shelvin. I would request a moment of prayer for him that his recovery is very successful.”
Shelvin replied, “This not anything we should take lightly guys. If we would have been meeting in person tonight, this is a meeting that I wouldn’t be able to attend.”
Shelvin added, “I do work with the public. People are not being honest with us. It is not just by way of airborne, it is by touch as well guys. And, all it takes is one person to spread it through the whole Council...”
Council member Alvin Stelly said he is recovering from the virus. “This virus is nothing to play with,” he said.
“I was afraid for my life,” he said.
Brown, who said he has high blood pressure and survived a stroke in May, said, “For right now, let’s stay as safe as possible.”