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This past Tuesday, Kareem Awadalla walked into the City Commission Chambers. As a journalist, he was there to look his elected officials in the eye and listen to their views on the many critical issues our commission planned to address that evening.

Kareem was politely escorted out by a member of the Wilton Manors Police Department since the chambers are not yet open to the public. Awadalla’s Facebook post in the Wilton Community News Group that evening asked, “Since the CDC guidelines allow in-person meetings with minor restrictions, why are Wilton Manors residents not allowed to attend the city hall meeting, let alone journalists?”

Residents who attended the meeting virtually also heard Jake Valentine of West Wilton Manors express concerns about any member of our commission regularly attending meetings remotely using a virtual background of the dais, without disclosing their physical location, while the city requires the public to clearly state their physical address before speaking. Jake asked on Facebook later that night, “Why is the public required to provide their home address to speak at a commission meeting while our commissioners may be out of the city or even state without the knowledge of their constituents during a commission meeting?”

To be clear, the commissioners, vice mayor and mayor who were physically present on the dais expressed interest in seeing our city staff put together a plan to re-open the commission chambers to the public. There was a strong consensus among those physically present that our city staff should create a plan for a COVID-19 safe reopening while continuing to offer remote access to anyone uncomfortable or unwilling to attend in person. The more ways to participate at a city commission, the better, in my opinion!

It’s worth mentioning that working in a purely online environment has made it easy for a small number of dishonest residents in our community to spread misinformation — like one particular resident who struck fear in residents by claiming some commissioners wanted to build 36-story buildings in our city. (No, not a single commissioner has ever voted for even 1/3 as much height!) I am confident that when we safely reopen our commission chambers, we’ll see more honest and productive discussions of our city’s future.

Our city is a critical junction. We’re facing both serious challenges and exciting opportunities. As elected officials, we are accountable to those we serve in our community. Being able to look those residents we serve in the eye and navigate sometimes difficult discussions is the job we signed up for. It is a duty I take seriously and am very grateful for.

I want to thank my fellow commissioners on the dais who urged the city to begin planning to reopen our commission chamber to the public. I also want to encourage the public to call the city and let them know that you, too, would like to see our commission chambers reopen safely. I look forward to the day when hybrid meetings — ones that are both in-person and online via Zoom — bring the greatest resident participation we have ever seen as a city. We’re better together here in the City of Wilton Manors.