It’s time to resume in-person meetings
As COVID-19 restrictions continue easing, we encourage local governments and school boards to resume meeting in person, with their doors open to the public and the media.
Many of our local governments, during the pandemic, have relied on telephone and video connections to convene public meetings.
After more than a year of covering such meetings, our reporters will tell you that these arrangements are only tolerable — definitely not preferred.
We suspect many residents came to the same conclusion when directed to render public comment by telephone, especially when school boards discussed the controversial issue of when students should return to their classrooms.
Telephoning into a meeting, while tolerable in light of the pandemic, doesn’t measure up to attending in person or speaking in person.
Prior to COVID-19, that’s how people expected to address their elected leaders, so they could watch for reactions and figure out what to say next.
While the resumption of in-person meetings may be easier for governing bodies with larger resources, we want all governing bodies to carve out ways to safely resume in-person meetings with room for the public and press.
Some agencies have already moved in that direction, allowing the public to attend in person as well as remotely, a welcome alternative for anyone, who for any reason, cannot attend in person.
Even as restrictions are eased, maintaining distance in meeting rooms will continue to be important.
Governing bodies with smaller quarters may need to consider some options for in-person meetings. Perhaps a new seating arrangement will work effectively? Perhaps an alternative location can be identified?
What should no longer be tolerated — in light of the decrease in COVID-19 cases — is for governing bodies to convene public meetings inside buildings while the public’s access is limited to telephone and video connections.
If you’re asking what’s wrong with that set-up, we can tell you about inaudible voices, dropped connections, an inability to know who’s talking and a general frustration from feeling like you’re assigned to the little kids’ table in the kitchen while the adults are in the comfortable dining room.
“With millions of Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated, it’s time to plan the transition back to normal,” said Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery, a member of the state’s COVID-19 task force in support of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plans to ease restrictions beginning Monday.
Last week’s guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating that fully vaccinated people can go maskless almost everywhere, sounds like another reason for local governing bodies to resume meeting in person, with access for all.
When it comes to local government, the doors should be as wide open as possible.