The Washington County Board of Supervisors holds its regular monthly meetings in a modern complex in Fort Edward.
But there was a time where once a year, the board would move the whole operation to the former county seat of Salem, where the board convened in an historic courthouse built in the 1860s that looked straight out of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
It was a tradition that the supervisors and the public had come to look forward to, both for historical reasons and because it gave citizens in that part of the county who couldn’t regularly make the 30-mile drive north the opportunity to experience their government in action in person.
We can’t think of anything more democratic than bringing government directly to the people.
In that way, Schenectady city officials have an opportunity to do it for real, by holding several City Council meetings each year someplace other than City Hall.
The idea is to reach people in the community who might not otherwise attend a meeting in person, maybe because of transportation issues or health reasons or just because they’re not inclined to go to City Hall.
While City Hall is conveniently located and on many bus lines, not everyone takes the time to attend meetings. But if the meeting was held in their neighborhood, they might.
The city should plan to do it, by inviting citizens to suggest locations, perhaps by ward or venue, and then setting dates.
There are logistical issues that will have to be overcome, none insurmountable, such as security for the meeting, transporting all the documents, and setting up the microphones, recording equipment and audio-visual technology needed to livestream the meeting.
The building where the meeting is held would have to be large enough to accommodate a crowd and be wired for the technology. Most public buildings like schools, fire stations and community centers already are.
If they’re concerned about security, such as metal detectors, they could choose a venue with that already in place, or have police use portable scanning devices at the door.
Some officials were concerned that some people who regularly attend meetings at City Hall wouldn’t be able to attend these meetings. But that would be offset by reaching a different group of people who can’t or won’t attend meetings in City Hall. As always, anyone can view a meeting from home if they can’t attend in person.
For the council members, holding meetings outside the traditional location might expose them to more of their constituents and perhaps give some of them a better understanding of the issues affecting those particular residents, who may have different issues and concerns than people living in other parts of the city.
Maybe afterward, in the warmer months, the council could arrange short walking tours of the areas before or after the meeting.
If they turn out to be popular, these meetings-on-the-go might become a tradition.
Why not try it?