HALLOWELL — Councilors are considering moving to a hybrid meeting format, in which the public can either attend in person or via Zoom, at the beginning of 2022.

The move marks a transition away from online meetings, which have been held for more than a year and half during the COVID-19 pandemic to help slow the spread of the infectious virus.

City Manager Gary Lamb said he and other officials will schedule training next week for the city’s new audio and video equipment, allowing them to hold hybrid meetings.

“We want to be ready and to be able to have some mock meetings beforehand,” Lamb said. “I don’t know if you folks as a group want to start hybrid meetings on Dec. 13, but in my mind we should be ready to do that.”

Under the state of civil emergency in Maine that ended on June 30, public bodies were allowed to hold virtual meetings, using online platforms like Zoom through the end of July. Now, with new state legislation in place, cities and towns have the option of offering hybrid meetings.

Councilor Patrick Wynne suggested having the first hybrid meeting during council’s annual inauguration, which falls on Jan. 3.


“First of all, it’s a low-risk meeting if something goes wrong, and second of all, it tends to have a bit more of a celebratory feeling, which could be good for getting back together in person,” Wynne said. “Also, that will be after children ages 5 to 12 will have had a chance to be fully vaccinated, and I think that’s the next benchmark we will hit in the pandemic.”

Councilor Berkeley Almand-Hunter said her children are 2 and 4, so she would not be able to go in person, but that she would be happy to attend remotely.

Lapointe agreed with Wynne’s suggestion to hold the first hybrid meeting in January, adding that there are a few details that officials should work out beforehand, including identifying spaces with sufficient distancing.

“If we have four of seven council members, how many members of the public can we put in the upstairs room?” he said. “A lot of times with the inauguration, it’s celebratory. A lot of people come and there might be too many people for that room. I’ll talk to city staff about how many people we can fit from the public in there safely, because I suspect it may be less than the amount of people who want to come.”

Councilor Diana Scully asked if the city will require attendants to be vaccinated, and how that would be handled.

“I don’t think that should be a staff call,” Lamb said, adding that he will discuss the best course of action with the city’s Board of Health to see what criteria it recommends for public attendance.


Councilor Kate Dufour said the council must  decide what protocols city officials will use.

“I think we’re going to have to be very cautious to not implement policies that might be seen as being exclusive,” Dufour said, noting that one possibility may be indefinitely requiring masking when the public is in the council chambers.

“I think we need to have the conversation,” she said, “and I think we need to be very cautious.”

Lapointe said he would meet with Lamb and health officials to help determine how to best implement the criteria that Dufour mentioned, adding that vaccination and other requirements such as density levels may be an issue for some members of the public.

“I would say if you decide to require vaccination, you’re basically going to have to ask them to produce proof,” said Councilor Michael Frett, “so keep that in mind.”

Wynne said the public might not be receptive to vaccination requirements.

“We will need to be aware that we might have some significant in-person backlash if we do decide to require the vaccination,” he said, “which I don’t oppose. We just need to be ready that we might not control the crowd.”

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