SACO —  Historically, those who want to watch their municipal government at work in Biddeford, Saco, and Old Orchard Beach can attend public meetings in person or watch them online or on public access cable television.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic appearing throughout the country, including Maine, and a mandate that gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people, those online sessions are becoming the only way to keep track of what is happening in municipal government.  Councilors either meet remotely from their own homes using videoconferencing, or in some cases, gather, with proper social distancing, in council chambers to conduct the people’s business.

Local governments are also looking for ways to accept public comments during council meetings and how comments can be made available when meetings take place remotely.

In Saco, the City Council was to start the remote process Monday, March 30, with the council holding their meeting digitally to follow social distancing guidelines.

“With the shift to remote meetings, we have modified how we receive public comments. Currently, the Saco City Council is accepting written public comment in place of in-person participation,” said Saco Communications Director Emily Roy. “Written public comments must be e-mailed to City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath at: [email protected], or mailed to Public Comment, 300 Main St., Saco, ME 04072. Public Comment received by 5 p.m. on the date of the council meeting will be provided to the City Council in advance of the meeting and will become a part of the permanent record of the meetings.”

She said those e-mailing, should type “Public Comment” and the meeting date in the subject field.

The city is looking at alternate options on how to receive public comments for public hearings, Roy said.

Biddeford City Council hosted its first remote session, with councilors off site, for a special City Council meeting on Thursday, March 26 and is expected to continue holding remote meetings until the limits on gatherings and the requirement for social distancing is over.

On Tuesday, March 31, Biddeford councilors were to consider a temporary suspension of public comment, but City Manager James Bennett told the Portland Press Herald that could change as the city explores how they might be able to provide a method to receive public comment.

People in Biddeford can continue to watch city government meetings online or on their cable television station.

In Old Orchard Beach, Assistant Town Manager V. Louise Reid said those who wish to raise matters with the Town Council may call her cell phone at Town Hall at 934-5114, ext. 1526, on her cell phone at 284-3652, or by email at: [email protected].

OOB council meetings take place in the Town Council meeting room, but given gathering limits, the building is closed to the public. People may watch on their television cable channel or online at the website.

In Saco, people may watch City Council meetings on the City of Saco Government Facebook page, or find a number of other options at: www.sacomaine.org/watchmeetings.

Those experiencing difficulties may email: [email protected].

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