Local governments this week were still determining how to hold meetings in a way that complies with both open government and limits on public gatherings.

The Kansas Open Meetings Act says entities must balance accessibility and transparency with the need to keep people safe, and the act is still in force as governments shut down facilities and comply with limits on public gatherings to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Proposed guidelines from the Kansas Attorney General’s Office to ensure meetings remain became legally binding on Wednesday.

These include guidelines on how to hold meetings via electronic means or with limited capacity in a way that the public can still observe or listen, and  ways to make the meeting procedures understandable to the public. 

The rules also say there must be a method of distributing agendas or any other written materials ordinarily available at the meetings.

Taggart Wall, city manager for the City of Winfield, said officials have not yet determined how to hold their next city commission gathering, a work session scheduled for April 2.

The commission’s most recent meeting, on March 16, was held in person. Wall said city officials are in the process of putting together a plan, using the guidance provided by the state attorney general’s office.

Lucas Goff, Cowley County administrator, said the county commission work session scheduled for today has been postponed. Their next meeting is April 7.

Goff said the county is also looking at other options, including hosting the meeting virtually and posting the recording to the county website afterward. 

They already make audio recordings of the meetings for record-keeping purposes.

“We’ll watch how things go before making a decision,” he said.

Arkansa City commission meetings will likely occur through the online platform GoToMeeting until restrictions on gatherings are eased, according to spokesman Andrew Lawson.

The public will be given the access code for the meeting beforehand. Meetings will also be recorded, but Lawson hasn’t determined how or if those recordings will be made available afterward.

“We’re still figuring it out as we go,” he said.

A special in-person executive session is being held today so commissioners can interview city manager candidates.

People who want to attend the public portion of the meeting will have to follow certain procedures to gain admittance to city hall, which is closed at this time.

In some cases, meetings that do not require immediate action are being postponed. 

Sarah Johnson, spokesperson for William Newton Hospital in Winfield, said the WNH board of trustees meeting scheduled for today was cancelled because there was notting on the agenda that required board approval. 

Instead, the reports and other information that would have been presented at the meeting will be sent to board members electronically. 

Johnson said hospital officials are looking at virtual meeting options, but decisions on whether to hold future board meetings will be held as they get closer.

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