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Vienna Town Council Approves COVID-19 Winter Preparedness Discussion for Local Businesses

What does the word ‘invite’ mean?

That question occupied the bulk of a Vienna Town Council discussion on Monday night regarding a proposal to invite Vienna restaurant lenders, owners, landlords and tenants to brainstorm ideas to support businesses this winter in light of the economic instability caused by COVID-19. The event is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nov. 12 at the Vienna Community Center gym and will be moderated by Peter Sparber, a Vienna resident.

The proposal passed 5-2, with Mayor Linda Colbert and Councilmember Ed Somers voting against it.

During the town council meeting, Colbert, Town Manager Mercury Payton, and the council members debated whether it is legal or proper for the town to hold an invite-only event not moderated by a town official.

Councilmember Ray Brill, who requested the town council take up the motion, said time is of the essence and the word “invite” must stay to gather together stakeholders.

“Winter is coming and there is nothing that we can do to stop it,” Brill said. “We need to listen to residents and other business folks to learn their point of view and navigate the COVID-19 crisis.”

Colbert worried about the town hosting an event but ceding control of the conversation. She said this gathering should remain in the private sector.

“I think it comes down to how some of us view the word invite,” Colbert said.

She said that if she invites people to a party, it is her party and she runs it. Similarly, if the town invites stakeholders, that makes it an official function. She said she would support a motion without the word “invite.”

Many members tweaked the proposal’s language. Like Brill, Councilmember Chuck Anderson, whose amended motion was ultimately approved, said the word “invite” needs to stay.

“I want the gravitas of the town to be part of the attempt to get people there,” he said.

His changed motion states: “This gathering is not an official function of the Town of Vienna. The town is not proposing any specific legislative action as a result of this meeting and Town Council members may observe, but will not participate in the discussion.”

Councilmember Dr. Nisha Patel offered another compromise to change “invite” to “encourage a conversation.”

Brill countered that encouragement occurs on social media. In order to have an honest dialogue, he only wants those who are invited to show up.

“We change from the word ‘public forum’ to ‘meeting,’ we run the risk of no one showing up because they don’t talk in person,” he said.

Patel said she understood the dilemma and supported the event.

“I think we should help make this a possibility for them,” she said. “We are all interested in helping them, that’s not a question.”

Photos via Vienna Town Council

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