Returning to County Hall won’t be simple for the Miami-Dade commissioners, as safety, capacity and cost obstacles could prolong virtual meetings even as the local economy reopens.
“Our biggest challenge is [the] amount of space for elected officials at the dais,” Internal Service Director Tara Smith said during a special meeting on Covid-19 last week. “We can accommodate the public in a safe, socially distanced manner in the seating and with overflow, like we normally would for overflow in the lobby, but there are several considerations we have to think about for the dais.”
The chambers at Government Center where the 13 commissioners normally consider legislation and hear from the public have adequate air filtration and cleaning protocols, Ms. Smith said.
There are 19 seats at the dais. However, only 11 can be placed along it while maintaining six feet of distance in between.
Fixing that to have room for commissioners and larger local decision-making groups like the 24-seat county transportation planning board will be costly but necessary, Vice Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said.
“We will have to invest in infrastructure in order to change the U-shape of the table … to have the distance, and maybe some plastics in between like other places are doing,” she said.
True, Ms. Smith said, but the county must consider both short- and long-term adjustments. Reconstructing the dais – for which she hired an architect – isn’t feasible short-term. Other changes, like plastic dividers and a new seating arrangement, she said, could be done much sooner.
Ms. Sosa said she’d also sought outside architectural counsel to see what could be done. Based on their measurements, 14 people could sit at the restructured dais if columns on either end of the long, curved and elevated table are removed.
But citing such an undertaking’s cost, Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson argued against any big changes until January, when term limits require her to vacate her seat.
“You all can handle that after I’m gone,” she said. “I can’t see us trying to get that done within this amount of time.”
Without the necessary changes, Ms. Sosa said she would not return to in-person meetings because of underlying conditions she has that would put her at great risk were she to catch the virus.