Ward 1 Councilman Sam Shoge

The Chestertown Town Council voted 4-1 Monday to open town hall to public meetings beginning June 21, the next scheduled council meeting.

Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver was the lone “no” vote. Tolliver wanted to wait until July in order to determine how in-person meetings could be integrated with live web feeds and Zoom that have been used since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Tolliver said that the Zoom meetings have garnered more public participation than the traditional in-person meetings. He said the council needed more time “to figure out how to continue to include live Zoom and the live feed we already provide.”

He said waiting until July would give the town time to “keep the technology aspect of it going.”

Mayor David Foster supported a hybrid system that supports Zoom and in-person meetings. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the town had the ability to live stream from the first and second floor of town hall.

Ward 1 Councilman Sam Shoge said meetings should resume on June 21 and the town could begin to “onboard” the technology and keep “iterating as we go.”

“If we are all comfortable meeting in person I think we should do that as quickly as possible,” Shoge said. “The technology piece and the remote access can always come later as we iterate.”

“There is too much value we’re missing out on by continuing[to meet] via Zoom when every other jurisdiction has resumed in-person meetings.”

Tolliver reiterated that the technology has created greater access to town meetings, but Shoge responded that focusing on technology was a “double-edged sword” and didn’t account for people with poor Internet connectivity or those who may not be so savvy with technology.