The Ann Arbor City Council met virtually Monday evening for the final time this year to discuss mask requirements for future in-person city council meetings. This ordinance follows updates to Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, which states that starting Jan. 1, all city commissions and public bodies must meet in-person again.

City Council previously discussed the OMA at their Nov. 15 meeting, where Mayor Christopher Taylor commented on the statewide act, calling it “unwise.”

In accordance with the OMA, the Council is set to return to in-person meetings after over a year and a half of meeting virtually. The first in-person meeting is set to take place Monday, Jan. 3. City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry confirmed that the City Council Chamber is preparing for in-person participants at a limited capacity with adequate social distancing in place. 

Taylor, one of the co-sponsors of the ordinance, expressed support for the ordinance and criticised the mandated return to in-person meetings. 

“It’s a shame that this resolution is a necessity, but it is a necessity because the legislature is forcing this council and a wide variety of boards and commissions to go back into in-person meetings at the coming of another height of the pandemic,” Taylor said. “I would call upon a legislature to look at the science, to provide for the public health, to enable us as we have been doing for months now, more than a year, to conduct public meetings in a fully transparent 100% safe manner. We’ve been doing it and it’s been working.”

Chris Frost, an employee of the Ann Arbor City Attorney’s Office, confirmed that the removal of a person from council chambers for not wearing a mask will be the same as any other council participation rule. If a person shows up to a city council meeting without a mask, they will be asked to leave, on the basis that the refusal to wear a mask would be considered disorderly conduct, Frost said. 

“This would be set up as any other council rule,” Frost said. “The mayor would make the determination at the meeting whether the person (not complying with the mask mandate) was in breach of the peace and would request removal if they did not comply.” 

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said that as long as alternatives such as broadcasted meetings are offered for those who fail to adhere to the ordinance, he will support the motion. 

“I want to make sure we have all the alternative opportunities for people to engage themselves in a meeting so that we don’t violate any constitutional rights. I’m rather sure that people are already thinking of it,” Ramwali said. “(I’m sure) there will be challenges to this and just as long as we can make sure that we are not infringing on any constitutional rights, I will support (it).”

Beaudry spoke to providing accommodations if city council meetings reach capacity or participants fail to adhere to the mask mandate.

“We are prepared for overflow with the distancing requirements (and if there is overflow), monitors will be set up in the atrium lobby,” Beaudry said.

The resolution passed unanimously, following Taylor’s encouragement for all attendees of city council meetings to comply with the resolution. Taylor also expressed his expectation that all councilmembers wear masks in the meetings as well to ensure public safety.

“(City Council) will take the public health of our meeting spaces as seriously as we can,” Taylor said. “We will be expecting folks to comply with this rule. I certainly will be wearing a mask (and) I would expect other council members to be wearing a mask.”

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