The Santa Fe City Council is inching its way back to meeting in person.
In a special meeting on Tuesday, councilors and Mayor Alan Webber discussed a number of options that would spell out their return to the dais.
“We are going to have to be in person, it’s not optional. We will no longer be in a position to say that it is either ‘impossible’ or ‘inconvenient’ for us to do it,” Webber told the council. “So that’s going to become a given and we have the ability to do it relatively quickly.”
It’s the latest sign that life in Santa Fe is reverting to some kind of normalcy, but the details of the council’s return remain elusive in light of councilors’ questions about the logistics of in-person meetings.
A regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, online, but a precise timeline for when councilors will gather again at the chambers remains unclear.
“It seems like we should be concerned with avoiding the perception that we don’t want to come back,” Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler remarked during the back and forth between the council and city management working to prepare the chambers for an imminent return.
Some councilors said the virtual sessions have broadened availability of meetings to the public.
“I think the fact that our committees are on YouTube is really important. I too do not want to lose that,” Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth said.
Councilors and staff have gathered virtually for the past 14 months, since public meetings for the City of Santa Fe went remote on March 25.
That hasn’t been the only change to City Council meetings over the last year. Afternoon and evening sessions of the governing body were bumped an hour earlier to 4 and 6 pm, respectively, to prevent meetings extending too late into the evening. Despite the change, the council’s virtual congregations have grown in length in the past year.
In later discussions, the city outlined preparations to welcome the public back to City Hall and employees currently teleworking back to the office. With staggered return dates to bring employees back, the city’s target date is the end of June.
For city employees eligible for teleworking, the transition back to the office will be heard on a case-by-case basis. The goal of rolling employees back from virtual offices depends on Information Technology and Public Works department updates needed in various municipal facilities.
“We’re a wide diaspora. Some of the areas are ready to go and it’s not very complicated; others have had folks working and so it’s a quick turnaround,” City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill said in response to the council’s questions about when employees are expected to return.
On Monday, Webber signed an updated proclamation of emergency in response to COVID-19, outlining revised guidelines for residents and city employees.
While employees must still wear facial coverings when providing services to the public, inside city facilities—those not accessible to the public—the masks can come off. Fully vaccinated employees (those two weeks past their final shot) can remove facial coverings while inside municipal buildings, though the public must continue wearing masks.
The previous proclamation mandated city employees working in-person to participate in regular surveillance testing. Now, that stipulation encourages only city employees who remain unvaccinated to continue to get tested regularly.
The revisions come with the asterisk stated in the proclamation: “[A]s long as local infection rates continue to remain in the Turquoise levels or lower and City employee rates remain near zero.”
Additionally, the proclamation maintains the moratorium on evictions and water shut-offs in the city, until the state Supreme Court decides to lift the current injunction in place.
City Attorney Erin McSherry told the council: “Part of the updated order alerts folks that they should use this time now, where we’re continuing the moratorium on water shut-off and evictions, to obtain a payment plan and to obtain relief funding.”