Kareem Awadalla was there to do his job. Awadalla, a freelance broadcast journalist, was asked to leave the Wilton Manors’ Commission chamber on Tuesday night prior to the start of the city’s regular commission meeting.
Due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic, Wilton Manors has not opened its commission meetings for public attendance.
“Since the CDC guidelines allow in-person meetings with minor modifications, why are Wilton Manors residents not allowed to attend the city hall meeting, let alone journalists?” Awadalla asked.
Awadalla was originally granted access to the meeting room by a police officer who returned minutes later and asked him to leave.
“Virtual meetings are the exception and will NOT become the new norm,” Awadalla posted on his Facebook page, Wilton Community News.
Johnnie Goodnight, the spokesman for the office of City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson, said Wilton Manors is working on a plan to re-open commission meetings to the public. A discussion will be held on this topic at the April 13 meeting.
Currently commission, board and committee meetings are held via Zoom to comply with health measures. Awadalla, however, notes the White House allows journalists to attend meetings and neighboring Fort Lauderdale is giving the public access to attend meetings.
Awadalla’s removal from the chamber was peaceful although it did spark a robust discussion online.
“The Commission meetings should be open and socially distanced on a first-come, first-served basis,” wrote Mike Sansevero, chair of the city’s Community Affairs Advisory Board, in response to Awadalla’s Facebook post.
At the March 24 meeting, Commissioner Mike Bracchi asked Henderson’s office to develop a plan to begin hybrid meetings that ensure the safety of residents and staff. Commissioner Chris Caputo, in a Facebook post, wrote he was “looking forward to reopening these meetings to the public.”
Goodnight said the commission chamber’s capacity is close to 90 people. The CDC recently relaxed social-distancing requirements to three feet for schools. At the time of his removal, Awadalla said there were four commissioners, a police officer and an internet technician in attendance.
There has been greater public demand for city proceedings of late. Wilton Manors increased its Zoom capacity for planning and zoning board meetings from 100 to 500 people due to interest in eastside development.
Awadalla believes in-person meetings must come back, safely of course, but suggested some public officials have been using the pandemic as cover.
“It seems some politicians are enjoying being distanced from the residents,” he said.
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