Morristown council extends sidewalk dining, virtual meetings

STILL ZOOMY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: Virtual Morristown council meeting, Oct. 26, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin
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Break out your parka. Sidewalk dining will continue through November in Morristown.

The town council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend relaxed permit procedures beyond a Halloween extension.  Sidewalk dining was expanded last year to help restaurants and bars survive the pandemic. The Morristown Partnership has endorsed the practice.

It was a virtual vote, and that’s how votes will remain for awhile longer.

Outdoor dining in Morristown, Nov. 7, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In-person meetings won’t resume until the town perfects a hybrid system that gives residents the option of participating from home, Council President Stefan Armington said after polling his colleagues.

All Morristown boards have been Zoom-only since COVID-19 struck in March 2020.

“It has to be hybrid. You can’t have one or the other,” said Councilman Robert Iannaccone. “We have to make whatever investment is necessary, because this is the new way.”

The town has acquired gear to enable livestreaming of in-person meetings, which in pre-pandemic times only were recorded for replay. A recent test did not go well, however, said town Administrator Jillian Barrick. Next week, she plans another dry run with the contractor who previously recorded the meetings. Preventing audio echoes is a challenge, Barrick said.

Iannaccone said some residents prefer viewing from home, and Councilman David Silva agreed that “our goal should be to encourage more people to be involved in the governing process” by offering hybrid options.

Only a handful of town employees and about 14 residents logged into Tuesday’s Zoom session, according to Barrick.

But Armington noted it wasn’t a sexy agenda, and suggested future issues may draw higher viewership. Planning board meetings have attracted good crowds, the council president said.

Town Clerk Margot Kaye said she will survey area towns, to see how they are conducting meetings now that COVID transmission rates have eased.

In other business, Shade Tree Commission Chairperson Kristin Ace said the commission landed a $34,000 grant to inventory trees on sidewalks and in parks. This list will help the town manage and maintain its leafy canopy, she explained.

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