(La Porte County, IN) - Future meetings of the La Porte County Commissioners will be under a hybrid format during the public health emergency after complaints about a recent order for meetings to be held strictly on Zoom.
Commission President Sheila Matias said the hybrid model allows members of the governing body and citizens to choose whether they want to attend virtually or in person.
“The hybrid meeting model allows that while the meetings can be legally conducted online via Zoom with no members physically present during this public health emergency as is being done around the state, members have the option to be present or participate via Zoom as needed,” Matias said.
Commissioner Joe Haney was among the local officials who complained the order by Matias earlier this month for the commission meetings to be strictly virtual was a violation of the law.
Along with La Porte County Attorney Shaw Friedman, Matias strongly disagreed with his legal interpretation. Matias also said the Indiana Public Access Counselor agreed her order was "legal and appropriate."
Haney and his supporters also claimed Matias was trying to squelch or discourage public comment when she ordered strictly virtual meetings.
Matias vigorously denied the claim and pointed to the commissioners' virtual meetings, drawing noticeably higher public attendance, allowing for people to attend from their homes.
“We have seen a huge uptick in virtual public attendance at county meetings since we have been using the Zoom platform, and I want to be sure we encourage public involvement going forward,” Matias said.
Matias also said her order came after the city councils in Michigan City and La Porte chose to revert to an all-virtual format until the COVID-19 surge is over.
"While the public health emergency continues, I encourage our citizens to continue to attend virtually when possible. The Zoom link is included in each meeting agenda," she said.