City returns to in-person meetings and open dining rooms


Screenshot from the city council video feed

Oxford City Council met face-to-face on June 1, for the first time since March, 2020. Council members were in the same room but were separated by plastic shields.

By Leanne Stahulak and Chloe Price

Habits and restrictions of the pandemic are easing in Oxford as the city council met face-to-face on Tuesday for the first time since March 17, 2020 and restaurants began opening tables for inside dining as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine lifted the state’s COVID-19 restrictions June 2. 

Plexiglass barriers divided council members, but no one was expressly required to wear a mask (only Councilor Chantel Raghu did). At the last council meeting May 18, city council voted to lift Oxford’s mask mandate. 

Councilor David Prytherch said he was excited to see council members face to face once again and take a step back towards normalcy. 

“I’m proud of how well we were able to adapt to COVID and keep the business of democracy going via Zoom,” Prytherech said. “But it’s much better to meet in person. It’s been a long time coming, and it felt really good.”

Prytherch also said the council is working on fixing technological issues so that citizens can continue to participate via Zoom, even while the council meets in person. He said he thinks participation was higher in city council meetings during the pandemic because people could easily access the meetings from the comfort of their homes. 

“People have always been able to watch from home, but the ability to contribute and comment was new for us and I think people really liked it,” Prytherch said. “I think our challenge will be how to continue that. It depends on what the state will permit, and we need to work out the technology, but I think we would like to somehow have the best of both worlds, if that’s possible.”

The Ohio Legislature already changed the rules of local governing when it enacted temporary changes to the Ohio Open Meetings Act under House Bill 197 and the COVID emergency declaration last year. According to the new rules, “members of public bodies may hold and attend meetings, and conduct hearings by means of teleconference, video conference, or any other similar electronic technology.”

This also applies to council members being able to vote virtually. With remote meetings, “members attending in this manner are to be considered present, and shall be counted toward the presence of a quorum and permitted to vote on matters coming before the public body during its session. Any resolution, rule, or other formal action of the body taken or adopted by the public body during such a session is to have the same effect as if it had been taken or adopted in an open meeting or hearing.”

House Bill 197 was set to expire Dec. 1, 2020, but in mid-November, the House passed another bill that extended the effects of 197 until July 1, 2021. While the Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud signed an order Tuesday that rescinded several specific health orders, this bill was not listed. 

Other local institutions are following the city council’s lead and are beginning to meet in person again, including the Talawanda Board of Education. Holli Morrish, director of communications and public engagement for the Talawanda School District, said starting in July, all school board meetings will be completely in person with the video shared on YouTube afterward. But for the time being, the school board will still host a Zoom meeting as well that members will log into while they’re meeting in person.

Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said that other city boards and commissions are debating how they want to conduct their meetings for the month of June. But she said she expects that all public meetings will be back in person by July. 

While Vice Mayor Bill Snavely is happy to be meeting in person again for city council meetings, he said he hopes that the city doesn’t stop here. For things to return fully to normal, Snavely said, more people have to become vaccinated.

“It’s just so important that people get the vaccine — it’s been proven safe,” Snavely said. “And so, if you’re able, I really, really hope that people will go ahead and get themselves vaccinated, and then all of Oxford will be back to some semblance of normal.”

Restaurants offer inside dining

With COVID-19 restrictions lifted, local restaurants can fully reopen their dining areas. 

Taco Bell, 36 Lynn Ave., has a sign on the curb welcoming diners to come inside and eat. Photo by Chloe Price

The lifting of the restrictions Wednesday, June 2 was a big deal for restaurants in Oxford. This means that restaurants can go completely back to normal, seating at full capacity. 

Many restaurants in town were thrilled about this change, allowing more people to come in and sit while enjoying their food. 

Taco Bell decided to open its dining room back open June 1. 

“It is going to be great to see all the customers back in the lobby again,” Taco Bell franchise owner John Mayer said. The dining room has been closed there for months due to COVID-19. 

“We have not had any complaints about the dining room being close,” Mayer said. “I think our customers preferred [drive thru only] because it was safer at the time than coming inside.”

The “Dine-In” message shows up on Taco Bells’ door, as well as many other local restaurants, Wednesday, June 2. Photo by Chloe Price

Another restaurant that was happy to have all its tables open was Chipotle. It has offered limited seating throughout the pandemic. However, as of Wednesday it had all its tables open with no restrictions.

Starbucks also joined the list of businesses that opened all its inside tables June 2. Now patrons are more than welcome to come in to grab a coffee and sit down and whip out their laptops to get some work done. 

Nupur New, general manager at SoHi sandwiches shop, 17-A East High St., was excited to have all tables open on Wednesday and for the foreseeable future. 

“During COVID-19, we had limited seating and had barriers up to keep distance,” New said. “We also had a five person limit of people in line at a time in the shop.” 

Now, all the restrictions have been lifted and SoHi can welcome as many people in line to get sandwiches as possible.