Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna to end Zoom access for meetings

Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney wrote in a June 23 memo to the council that the need for video conferencing had decreased.

Individuals looking to testify at Soldotna city council meetings will have to do so in person following approval of the discontinuation of the city’s Zoom services by the council during their June 23 meeting.

The city introduced two-way video conferencing through Zoom for meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Soldotna City Clerk Shellie Saner said earlier this year that Soldotna’s Zoom subscription costs the city about $3,100 annually. Soldotna’s Zoom Meetings Pro subscription included a video webinar that could host up to 500 participants and toll-free call in for audio conferencing, in addition to regular Zoom services.

The city was one of many peninsula municipalities that used the remote conferencing platform for meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom is also currently used by the City of Kenai and by the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship has said that the borough plans to continue offering Zoom participation during borough meetings. The City of Seward announced in April that Zoom participation would no longer be offered for city meetings.

Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney wrote in a June 23 memo to the council that the need for video conferencing had decreased.

“The conditions that generated the need for two-way video conferencing have subsided, vaccinations are now available and public participation through video conferencing has decreased substantially, with no public interaction through zoom during the last three meetings,” Whitney says in the memo.

Whitney said during Wednesday’s meeting that discontinuing Zoom service will also eliminate the need to open up public comment periods both to people on Zoom and to people attending in person and that the council will return to regular seating for their next meeting.

“Everyone will be back sitting up here like we had a year ago,” Whitney said. “We’ll be next to each other and we won’t be shouting across the room to hear each other. One of the best parts of this is that I will be able to end the Zoom comments.”

Soldotna toggled between holding meetings in person and holding meetings remotely, depending on the community’s COVID-19 risk level. A resolution introduced by council member Justin Ruffridge in April said that the council would operate in person, even if the community’s COVID risk level was high.

In addition to suspending Zoom service, the Soldotna Council Chambers will also be reconfigured such that seating arrangements return to pre-COVID times. Council, city administration and audience member seating was socially distanced during the council’s June 23 meeting.

Because the installation of video cameras in the conference chambers was permanent, city council livestreams will include video as well as audio. Soldotna City Council meetings can be viewed on the city’s website at soldotna.org/streaming.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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