There is a lot of debate among governing bodies about whether conducting public meetings (County Council, City Council, Plan Commission, etc.) via remote video technologies increases access or decreases access. I’ve been told that holding meetings remotely is ageist. And of course there are many in our community who do not have access to broadband Internet or the equipment to participate remotely (a topic for another comment on its own). On the other hand, I’ve heard from many constituents — including those over 70 — that they appreciate being able to participate remotely. That the Zoom meetings are easier to hear, easier to read presentations, and, of course, easier to attend.
Randy Paul made some great public comments last night at the Bloomington City Council meeting, saying that for many people with disabilities moving to Zoom has been wonderful, and he also mentions the challenges that families with children might have in participating in public meetings (note that if last night’s City Council meeting had been held in person only, one would have had to been there until 10:30PM at City Hall).
Here is a link to Mr. Paul’s comments: http://catstv.net/m.php?q=8218&t=4207
In particular, Mr. Paul expressed the hope that once we return to face to face meetings that we continue to incorporate the ability to participate using remote technologies, and I completely agree. Integrating face to face meetings with remote participation is even more challenging than remote-only meetings. It may well require additional equipment and staff support. But I think it is worth the effort.
Note that the actual members of the governing body can only vote remotely because of the Governor’s Executive Order. We have no control over the actions of the state, and continuing participation by the members of the body would be dependent on future legislation. But allowing public participation — we can do that ourselves locally without permission from the state.
We have learned a great deal in a short time about how to incorporate public participation using remote technologies. Let’s not forget what we’ve learned once we move on to the “new normal”.