McAlester city council meetings are moving to the McAlester Campus of Eastern Oklahoma State College for the remainder of the year.

City councilors unanimously agreed to make the move because it appeared the Oklahoma State Legislature will not extend a previous action allowing members of public bodies to virtually attend public meetings through an audio or video connection.

The Oklahoma State Legislature passed a provision in the spring allowing the virtual meetings due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That special provision is set to expire Sunday, Nov. 15.

"We are anticipating legislation will not extend authority to meet virtually," said City Manager Pete Stasiak. He said the Council Chambers at City Hall is too small to allow the city council to social distance when all seven members of the council are attending the meeting in-person, along with other city officials.

Plans call for the council's Nov. 24 meeting to be held in the Conference Center Room 215 in the Clark Bass Building at Eastern at 1802 College Ave. in McAlester. Two regularly-scheduled meetings in December are now set at Eastern as well.

During their Oct. 27 meeting, city councilors authorized Mayor John Browne to send a letter to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state legislature asking that the virtual meetings be extended beyond the current Nov. 15 expiration date to March 15.

Browne said he has not received an answer from either the governor or from legislators regarding the request. He does not expect the authorization to be extended at this point.

"My understanding is because it was done by legislation, the legislature would have to extend it by a special session," Browne said.

Stasiak noted the meeting room on EOSC's McAlester Campus is much larger than the City Council Chambers at City Hall.

"It will allow the council to social-distance from each other," Stasiak said. It will also allow those attending the meeting to socially distance from each other, he added.

During recent city council meetings, some members of the public have stood outside in the lobby, due to fewer chairs being placed in the lobby so those attending can social distance from each other.

Due to the using the larger conference room at Eastern, larger numbers of individuals can be accommodated and seated inside if they want to attend the meetings in-person.

"The public will be able to have more interaction," Browne said. "It should be a better setup until the COVID gets better."

Those attending the city council's Tuesday night meeting in-person included Stasiak, Mayor Browne, Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith, Ward 3 Councilor Steve Cox, Ward 4 Councilor James Brown, Ward 5 Councilor Billy Jack Boatright and City Clerk Cora Middleton.

Participating virtually through a telephone connection were Ward 2 Councilor Cully Stevens and Ward 6 Councilor Zach Prichard.

While city councilors agreed to move the council meetings to Eastern through the end of the year, they could consider extending it they decide it's necessary. 

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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