The Town of Round Hill this week became the first Loudoun town to have its newly elected mayor and Town Council members sworn into office over the internet.
Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary ClemensWednesday nightswore in Mayor Scott Ramsey and Council Members Mike Hummel and Paula James—all of whom were voted into office in the May 19 town elections—during a Town Council meeting hosted on GoToMeeting, a video conference call platform. Vice Mayor Mary Anne Graham and Councilwoman Melissa Hoffmann were not signed into the meeting and will need to be sworn in at a later date.
Clemens said the swearing-in was the first to be done virtually in Loudoun’s history and that he was able to do it because he was able to verify the identity of the council members he swore in. Already, Clemens has remotely sworn in a few new sheriff’s deputies.
Wednesday’s council meeting marked the town’s third virtual assembly. Such electronic meetings have been a point of discussion among governing bodies across the nation in recent months, since the coronavirus crisis has forced them to convene electronically rather than in person.
Although the Virginia Freedom of Information Act normally requires a quorum of members to be physically present in the room for a governing body to conduct business, in a declared state of emergency they can hold meetings electronically. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in March opined that if the purpose of a governing body’s meeting is to address a declared state of emergency, including “to make decisions that must be made immediately and where failure to do so could result in irrevocable public harm,” they can meet electronically.
In April, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law allowing governing bodies to meet electronically during declared emergencies if it is deemed that it’s “impracticable or unsafe … to assemble in a single location and when the purpose of meeting is to discuss or transact the business statutorily required or necessary to continue operations of the public body.” Governing bodies can assemble online as long as they provide notice of the meeting, make arrangements for public access to the meetings and make a recording or transcript of those meetings available to the public.
Beginning July 1, Ramsey, who was voted back into office with 29 votes in the May 19 town elections, will serve a sixth two-year term as mayor. Graham, who received 30 votes, will begin her ninth four-year term on the council. Hummel, who received 26 votes in the election, and Hoffmann, who led write-in ballots with five votes, will serve their first full four-year terms at the meeting table. James, who received 30 votes in a special election, will serve out the remainder of a term that expires in June 2022.
Following the oath of office ceremony, Clemens mentioned that he grew up in western Loudoun and that he felt Round Hill was a special community. “I appreciate your service to that wonderful town,” he told Ramsey.
On June 8, Clemens will also swear in newly elected Hamilton Town Council members Greg Wilmoth, Elizabeth Gaucher and incumbent Council members Ken Wine and Catherine Salter. That, however, will be done in person.