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LaGrange City Council meetings to move back to council chambers

After meeting at the Del’avant Event Center since the pandemic hit, the LaGrange City Council voted unanimously to move meetings back to the council chamabers at 208 Ridley Ave on Tuesday night.

Starting Nov. 24, regular meetings will occur in the council chambers. There will be one more regular meeting at Del’Avant on Nov. 10. The council expects a larger crowd that night because the graduates of the Citizens Police Academy will be in attendance.

Starting Nov. 10, work sessions will be in the third-floor city hall conference room at 200 Ridley Ave. Council work sessions typically occur at 11 a.m., followed by regular meetings the same day at 5:30 p.m. COVID-19 safety protocols will remain in place. Masks will be required and people will have their temperate checked upon entry. Mayor Jim Thornton also said staff can sanitize and “fog the room” at the council chambers before meetings.

The council chambers are also used for municipal court — staff would clean the room after the court finished for the day and before the council meets.

Regular meetings and work sessions have been taking place at Del’avant, which provides more room to socially distance.

At Tuesday morning’s work session, Thornton said the main drawback of using Del’avant has been inconvenience for city staff.

“It’s not easy, the work session is not easy on city staff … the evening meeting adds the additional complication of setting up cameras and all that,” Thornton said.

Thornton said that since the council has not seen large crowds in recent months, the council could consider moving back.

“Which is not to say we won’t have a controversial zoning and public hearing, which is typically what fills up council chambers,” Thornton said.

If the council foresees a large crowd at a future meeting, there are a few options they could consider, Thornton said. One is to move the meeting to Del’avant on short notice. Another is to stagger entry for people entering the chamber to comment. Another still would be to set up a live stream at Del’avant, where citizens could go to make public comments via video call to the council, which would still be at the council chambers.

Thornton said changing meeting locations on short notice could be a challenge due to legal requirements that the city advertise public hearings ahead of time in the county legal organ. He also said he didn’t want the council to be “in a whipsaw,” switching back and forth all the time.

To limit seating capacity, city staff may block off every other bench in the chambers.Councilman Nathan Gaskin questioned whether construction work planned to start next week at city hall could be an issue.

“It gets darker at 5:30,” Gaskin said. “Do we really want to have the public around a construction site at night if we don’t have to?”

Councilman Tom Gore, a cardiologist, noted that many models were predicting that cases will surge over the winter. Gore wasn’t opposed to moving back, but he said that it would be unwise to meet at the chambers if cases reached the levels Troup County saw in June.

“We don’t know that that’s going to happen, but many models are predicting that we’re going to see some increase in activity between now and the end of the year,” Gore said.

Councilman Mark Mitchell was in favor of moving back.

Thornton said cost wasn’t the main issue in response to a question from Gore.

The city has already booked Del’avant through the end of the year, he said, and has not had to pay to rent the space.

The city has paid the costs of setting the space up and cleaning it, about $500 a month.

Despite the concerns, the council approved the proposal. Thornton said that COVID-19 safety is still paramount and agreed with council members that the city should remain flexible going forward.

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