The St. Paul City Council is set to resume meeting in person after Labor Day, but council members said they'd like to see residents retain the option to weigh in virtually.

The council has been conducting public meetings over video calls since March 2020, when city halls across the state shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Gov. Tim Walz's emergency orders have allowed for exceptions to Minnesota's regular open-meeting laws.

The council unanimously approved a Sept. 8 return date at its virtual meeting Wednesday.

Though St. Paul is reaching key vaccination benchmarks, which prompted Mayor Melvin Carter to lift the city's mask mandate Wednesday, Council President Amy Brendmoen said the city "has no control over the number of folks that show up" to public meetings while social distancing is still advised.

She also said the city needs more time to figure out how to continue allowing residents to comment on council items by phone or online.

"We learned in the pandemic how we can make public participation more accessible," Council Member Mitra Jalali said.

Many local governments across Minnesota reported that participation in public meetings skyrocketed over the last year, when people had the chance to speak out from the comfort of their homes. At the same time, remote operations have raised concerns about technical glitches, difficulties for interpreters and greater leeway for elected officials to mute or ignore dissent.

Brendmoen said council members and their staff will gradually return to their offices in City Hall this summer in attempt to start re-energizing St. Paul's downtown.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478