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Town officials cite benefits of online meetings: more democracy

Apr 06, 2021 5:55 am
Scott Stafford reports in The Berkshire Eagle that citizen participation has increased as town meetings have more often been put online since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. "A lot of it has been absolutely fabulous. I think there is a democratizing element in some ways. More people can access the meetings, and they don’t have to rearrange their whole lives to go there in person,” said Wendy Penner, a member of the Williamstown COOL Committee. “Every other town manager I’ve talked to is saying this is the highest amount of resident participation they’ve ever seen,” said Adam Chapdelaine, town manager of Arlington and president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “I see this as an opportunity to expand public involvement. We hope to retain some aspects of it, while still getting back to seeing each other eye to eye while engaging in conversations about tough issues.” Now government officials are talking about having meetings that are both online and in-person when the pandemic ebbs. “One of the benefits of this is that it has made governmental meetings more accessible to people,” said Jason Hoch, the town manager in Williamstown. “So now we have to think about what does government look like when the pandemic is behind us. It would be hard to go back to meetings as they used to be.” For one thing, having online meetings allows more people to attend. “Zoom makes it easier for everyone to be there,” Richard “Dick” Scialabba, chairman of the Hinsdale Select Board and the Planning Board said. “We had nearly 100 people at a recent Planning Board meeting. That is more than would have fit into the physical meeting room.” The room holds just 40 citizens. “Post-COVID, I think we’ll still be doing it,” Scialabba said. “It’s been a great help, and I see no reason for it to go away.” Read more about this story in The Berkshire Eagle.