Columbia City Council members will no longer have to sit at the kids’ table after a conversation at its Monday night meeting. The council decided it will start rolling back the chambers’ COVID-19 guidelines, starting with member seating and the use of masks.
During the pandemic, the council has been socially distanced, which requires Fourth Ward Councilperson Ian Thomas and Sixth Ward Councilperson Betsy Peters to sit at tables that are lower than the dais where the rest of the council sits.
Council members, as well as the public, have also been required to wear masks during meetings. The council reached consensus on a loose plan to ease up on those guidelines.
“I feel that Mr. Thomas and Dr. Peters are at a bit of a disadvantage being at the kids’ table,” Mayor Brian Treece said, drawing chuckles from his council colleagues.
Treece suggested the council take a step toward normalcy by returning to the old seating arrangement, which would bring all the members back to the dais. City Attorney Nancy Thompson and City Manager John Glascock would sit at the smaller tables to the sides of the dais.
Treece also proposed that department directors stick to speaking from the lectern that faces the dais, rather than a separate table designated for staff. The change made during the pandemic puts staff members on more of an even footing with the public, which reduces feelings of bias.
Glascock said that when Columbia’s emergency declaration ends May 29, the city will likely stop requiring people to wear masks when entering the Daniel Boone City Building. Masks will just be recommended.
The council also discussed increasing the capacity of the council chambers. They agreed to collaborate with Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, to work toward gradually increasing the capacity to 50% and eventually to full capacity. Capacity during the pandemic has been reduced to about one-third.
All the suggestions made were met with the council’s approval, and the changes will be in effect at its June 7 meeting.