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Fayetteville City Council returns to City Hall meeting space Monday

The move means the public will be able to access City Council meetings in person.

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The Fayetteville City Council is expected to return to its chamber in City Hall on Monday night, a move that means the public will be able to attend meetings in person.

The council has been meeting for months in a meeting room at the FAST Transit Center while renovations were being made to City Hall. The media and the public had been forced to sit outside the meeting room and listen live on a television that has poor reception.

In January, CityView TODAY Editor Lorry Williams and columnist Bill Kirby sent separate emails to City Manager Doug Hewett asking that the media be provided access to city government meetings equal to that of local council members and staff. A reporter for the online publication had made similar requests earlier, citing open meetings laws.

A CityView TODAY reporter has since been allowed inside the FAST Transit Center meeting room, but the public has not been allowed inside.

Earlier this month, two other organizations joined CityView TODAY’s fight for in-person public access to council meetings.

In a letter dated March 16, Fayetteville lawyer Neil Yarborough wrote on behalf of the Longleaf Pine Realtors Inc. and the Home Builders Association of Fayetteville that the City Council should find a meeting room large enough to accommodate the public.

In his letter, Yarborough said “the city’s excuse for not complying fully with the (state’s) Open Meetings Law appears to be” because it is following COVID-19 protocols and because renovations to City Hall have forced it to find another, much smaller meeting room.

“It is incomprehensible with all the large open meeting spaces in public buildings in the City of Fayetteville that a larger room can’t be found which will reasonably accommodate the public ‘In Real Life,”’ Yarborough wrote. “This excuse or any other similar such explanation does not trump the requirements of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.”

Hewett has said “the city’s position is that we have and we will continue to comply with the requirements of the law.”

The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday.

City Hall renovations

This is the first renovation to the council chambers in nearly three decades, the city said in a release.

There is new digital and video equipment that should improve the experience for those who attend in-person and watch at home, the release said. The space also can be reconfigured to allow for social distancing when necessary.

Construction continues on the first-floor lobby and operational spaces. Once completed, there will be a new customer service area, open space where staff and the public can interact, a customer service window and new security measures, the city said. 

While the work continues, visitors should continue to access City Hall through the Pittman Street entrance at the rear of the building during business hours. To access City Council meetings, people should use the front entrance security screening point on Hay Street, the city said.

There are also increased security measures in place. People attending meetings in the council chambers and entering through the front doors will be required to go through a screening area that uses metal detectors and an X-ray machine for handheld personal items, the city said.

 Council meetings will continue to be broadcast live on Zoom, FayTV and YouTube.

Fayetteville, City Council, City Hall, council chambers, public access, renovations

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