Local governments reopening doors to residents in March

Manassas Mayor Michelle Davis-Younger [Photo: Uriah Kiser/PLN}

Multiple jurisdictions in our region are reopening their local governments to the public.

  • Stafford County announced it would lift restrictions that kept residents out of their government buildings.
  • Stafford County Government Opening to Public March 1 and DMV Taking Appointments
  • Stafford County Government offices will reopen to the public starting Monday, March 1, 2021.
  • Visitors will be asked to do a self-temperature check voluntarily.
  • Masks and social distancing of six feet are required at all times.

The Board of Supervisors will resume meetings with in-person public comments on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Those seeking to make public comments at either the 3:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. meeting will be checked at the front door.

  • Only 14 members of the public are allowed in the Board Chambers to accommodate social distancing mandated by the state.
  • Residents may still provide online comments by visiting www.staffordcountyva.gov/publichearings.
  • The deadline for submitting comments for the March 2 meeting is Friday, February 26, 2021.

A county spokeswoman credits lower counts of new coronavirus cases reported in the Fredericksburg region and tighter restrictions put in place by Gov. Ralph Northam set to expire at the end of the month.

In Manassas, the doors to city hall have been open, but the City Council has met virtually for the past month. Mayor Michelle Davis-Younger announced the City Council would resume in-person meetings starting March 8.

  • The public will once again be able to address their local government in person.
  • Davis-Younger, in late January, ordered a stop to in-person City Council meetings, requiring they instead be held online.
  • Residents were encouraged to submit comments to the City Council via email.
  • Davis-Younger declined to comment for this story, the latest in a string of comment refusals to this news organization since her Fall 2020 campaign for mayor.

Some councilmembers did share concerns about conducting public business from their homes, especially when discussing items reserved for closed-door sessions permitted under the law, such as financial bargaining positions or personnel matters.

  • “I would agree with that,” said Councilman Tom Osina. “As much as I try to seclude myself on a Zoom meeting, whether it’s for a committee meeting or City Council…I could have interruptions because I live with other people.”
  • “I would have a concern if the [virtual meeting] were wide open, but with Zoom, we control who can be admitted to a room, and as long as those security precautions can be addressed, I have fewer concerns,” said Councilman Ralph Smith.

It remains unclear why, after meeting in person throughout the pandemic in 2020l and with the number of coronavirus cases in the region declining, Davis-Younger decided to hold virtual-only meetings.

  • Many said it would be impossible to know who might be with at a council member’s home, setting off the to the side, listening in.

“Had I been [been mayor] last March, we would have gone all virtual,” Davis-Younger said during a special in-person City Council meeting on February 19.

Some councilmembers did express interest in holding virtual meetings at the height of the pandemic. However, there was not enough interest from the entire council to do so, said City Manager Patrick Pate.

  • The City Council held two in-person meetings in January.
  • Pate had plexiglass installed to separate the councilmembers during sessions.

As soon as the City Council gets back together in person, it will again be looking for a new temporary home to host meetings.

  • City Hall will soon close to the public for renovations for about a year.
  • In the meantime, the city could explore the possibility of using event halls or schools to host government meetings.
  • Pate said he would allocate about $100,000 in the coming year’s budget to hire a professional video crew to broadcast six to eight government meetings per month.

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