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City Hall to reopen to the public April 4

Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Baltimore City Hall. The building will reopen to the public on April 4, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Thursday.

Baltimore City Hall will open its doors to the public on April 4, after two years of virtual city meetings first brought about by the pandemic’s arrival.

Mayor Brandon Scott’s announcement Thursday came after weeks after he lifted Baltimore’s indoor mask mandate, which prompted snowballing public pressure to reopen City Hall. He pointed to the city’s declining COVID-19 rates in a news release.

“We have achieved great successes in our fight against this pandemic because of the measures and mandates we put in place and our residents’ commitment to overcoming COVID-19 in Baltimore City,” the Democrat said. “I am proud of our progress, but we are not finished yet; we must remain vigilant as the world continues to battle this virus.”

Public-facing employees first returned to City Hall and other buildings such as the Abel Wolman Municipal Building in August; another round of workers returned in the fall.

As other public buildings in the region began reopening their doors over the summer, Scott, who set stricter pandemic containment measurements than his local peers, said a group of city staffers tasked with reopening logistics was working on the process. Over the last few months, he blamed the city’s holdup on the omicron variant, a supply chain delay in acquiring technology to allow city meetings to be held in a hybrid in-person-virtual option and unfinished talks with other city leaders.

“While it is important that we restore in person access to government meetings and officials, it is just as important that we not deprive people of the virtual access that they have come to expect,” Comptroller Bill Henry said in a statement.

Scott was among some city leaders who argued that virtual meetings made civic participation easier for residents who could not attend hearings in-person due to working hours and transportation or who wanted to avoid COVID exposure.

But the hundreds of virtual meetings held over the past two years were full of stumbles, from video that lapsed unexpectedly in the middle of high-stakes conversations to poor WiFi connections that left elected officials’ voices garbled.

The Scott administration is planning on offering hybrid options for meetings once needed technology is in place. Until then, testifying at legislative hearings will be limited to in-person attendees only. Some public meetings will continue to be streamed on CharmTV. All City Hall visitors will have their temperatures taken upon arrival and must wear masks.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.