EDITORIAL: Plan now for reopening of meetings

Public should be able to observe and face government officials in person
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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Zoom and video conferencing and electronic messaging are adequate ways to share information in a pinch.

But nothing matches in-person interactions to convey thoughts, emotions and information.

That goes for business relationships. It goes for interpersonal relationships. And it goes for the the relationship between government bodies and their citizens.

As the country and state tepidly wade into reopening the economy, government boards should also be making plans to reopen their meetings to the public.

School boards in particular are debating vitally important matters that will significantly affect property taxes and the education of our children, perhaps for years to come. 

Citizens need to be in the room when these decisions are being debated and decided.

We don’t advocate going back to the old ways of holding meetings, at least until adequate testing and vaccinations are available.

But we’ve seen from the governor’s press conferences that board members can socially distance from one another while sitting at the same table. They just sit far apart.

We’ve also seen how reporters at those press conferences maintain their own safe distance from one another. Some form of that could be employed for attendance at public meetings.

First off, hold meetings in larger venues than many government meetings are currently held. 

School gymnasiums, cafeterias and auditoriums could have seating arranged to ensure plenty of social distancing.

Residents who attend meetings must be required to wear masks and stay six feet or more apart when seated and when lining up to address the board, in much the way we queue at the grocery store.

Boards could limit the number of people who can attend a meeting, based on the size of the venue, and advertise that number in advance. Once the venue reaches capacity, citizens would still retain the option of viewing and participating in the meeting online.

Some vulnerable citizens, like senior citizens, might continue to choose not to attend in person in order to protect themselves.

And documents could be made available online, they way they are now during the crisis.

It’s important that we not rush into returning to “normal,” so as not to encourage a second wave of the disease. But the suspension of live in-person government meetings was never intended to be permanent.

It’s vitally important for the operation of our government that citizens be able to observe and face their public officials in person.

Government boards should be planning now to restore that opportunity as quickly and as safely as possible.

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