Protesters say Staunton City Council is silencing the public by ending ability to call in during meetings

Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 1:15 PM EDT
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STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) - A group in Staunton is protesting City Council’s recent decision to end virtual meetings. It means everyone has to come to City Hall to participate in meetings, ending the public’s ability to phone in.

Staunton Council first allowed virtual participation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a 4-3 vote, they ended it at their most recent meeting.

At the end of a budget work session, several concerned citizens spaced out in Council Chambers stood in protest. Wearing tape over the mouths of their masks and the word ‘silenced’ on the backs of their shirts, they took turns speaking out. They are demanding city leaders reconsider the vote that ended the public’s ability to call in during public hearings and matters from the public. They say all voices must be heard.

“Former councils allowed speaking, and not only did they allow conversation, they responded. And so there was a process of communication. And I believe that’s the silence that we’re finding,” said Staunton business owner Ellen Boden.

“The policy now being implemented by the Staunton City Council is disenfranchising to people who have comorbidities, who have compromised immune systems, to people who are disabled,” said Linda Revis with the Shenandoah Valley Poor People’s Campaign.

Council members who voted to end the uncodified emergency ordinance say more people are getting vaccinated and it’s time to get back to the way things were.

Council members opposed say there’s still a pandemic going on, and calling in allows more people to have a voice.

The City recently invested $180,000 CARES act money in technology to allow for Zoom meetings and call-ins. The equipment will also help them offer a video live stream of meetings starting April 22.

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