San Antonio – The San Antonio City Council will meet in-person for the first time in more than three months on Thursday as local conditions for the COVID-19 pandemic improve.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg cited metrics such as the positivity rate, doubling rate, a decline of cases, and stress on the hospital system as reasons why the council will resume holding its A-session meetings, where the council votes in-person.
“I made the decision that it’s time, but also in consultation, obviously, with management and with my colleagues,” Nirenberg said.
Committee meetings and B-session meetings, where the full council generally receives in-depth briefings, will continue to be held virtually.
Beyond the standard temperature checks and screening for symptoms the city used previously, council members will also be separated by plexiglass dividers.
Members will be able to attend remotely “as necessary,” Nirenberg said, though he estimated at least seven of the 11 council members, including himself, will be there Thursday.
The return to in-person meetings will mean another change in the public comment process. The switch to virtual meetings resulted in the use of phone-in comments, though speakers have complained about how well that system actually works.
The city’s eComment tool was unveiled in August, allowing residents to submit written comments ahead of time.
The return to in-person meetings for council members means any live public comments at those meetings will also be made in-person, not by phone. The eComment option, though, will still be available.
Celeste Brown, a community organizer with Black Futures Collective and Defund Police SA, has issues with the phone-in comment system, which she says has resulted in callers being told that they had not signed up or even hung up on. However, she wishes it had remained an option for people who cannot make a 9 a.m. meeting in the middle of the week.
“I do think it is a step in the right direction to open it back up to again, where there’s that interpersonal feeling where you’re not just talking into a phone, unable to actually engage with your council members. But I do wish that it was consistent all around and a bit more accessible,” Brown said.
The virtual meetings, which include Wednesday public comment sections, will allow residents to make comments by phone.
Nirenberg said the city will continue to monitor the city’s COVID-19 pandemic metrics to determine when other meetings could be held in-person in the future.