Both the city and county of Missoula plan to return to in-person meetings and services in the coming weeks while preparing options that will continue virtual participation.
With the pandemic winding down, they’re also crafting policies allowing employees to work remotely from a home office, and they’re implementing new security measures.
One of the largest post-pandemic changes is a new state law allowing firearms in public buildings. The county already had taken steps to bolster security at the county courthouse, and it’s now doing the same at the county’s administration building.
Before the pandemic – and the new state law – visitors had free access to the admin building. Visitors will now be buzzed in, and the city is adding a new security entrance to Main Hall.
“We’re not fully open yet, but hopefully our new City Hall entrance opens this week,” said city CAO Dale Bickell. “That will have a new security entrance. From now on, the security screening we started during Covid will continue.”
The city and county both resorted to virtual meetings early in the pandemic. The shift required them to update technology that allowed for public participation in a remote setting.
The process has worked relatively well over the past year, and both governments want to continue the virtual option, even as elected officials return to in-person meetings and public hearings.
“We did 10 years of technology adoption in one year and we don’t want to lose steam there,” said Bickell.
County CAO Chris Lounsbury said officials are also updating their telework agreements. The county has permitted teleworking under certain circumstances for 15 years, though it’s now making changes related to workers compensation and safety at the home office.
“It also lays out many of the ground rules we’ve always had around teleworking as far as availability and those kinds of things,” Lounsbury said. “One of the percs we had coming out of the pandemic was a purchase during CARES to support remote phone, so phone extensions could be inside a residence if they’re teleworking.”
Bickell said the city is also updating its telework policies as it shifts to a post-pandemic setting.
“Our department heads are creating their reopening plans under guidance from the mayor,” he said. “We’ve given our supervisors certain latitude to provide permanent telework agreements. We’re working through those issues and we’ll get to a place to announce our reopening very soon.”