Selectmen loosening restrictions on public meetings (a little)

by beth on March 25, 2020

During last night’s video conference call, selectmen agreed to allow more Town committees or boards to virtually meet during the pandemic state of emergency. Selectmen voted that any Town board or committee can hold a virtual meeting – but only if they have critical or time sensitive matters to discuss, or issues related to covid-19.

It is basically what the board agreed to in their meeting last week. But after that meeting, the Town’s update gave a much stricter definition. It only allowed the Board of Selectmen, Board of Health, School Committee, and “Any permitting board that needs to meet in order to avoid a constructive approval on a project.”

Under the new guidance, committees will have the discretion to decide whether an item is critical enough to hold a virtual meeting. As for those virtual meetings, selectmen denied a request to allow boards to choose a different app/technology. Every committee or board will have to use the Zoom account setup by the Town. 

Town Administrator Mark Purple explained that the Town implemented a platform that they know works and satisfies all Open Meeting Law criteria.

A criticism had been that Zoom only allows two virtual meetings at a time. Purple pointed out that since meetings take place virtually, they can be held any time of day.

The Town’s IT Director Tom Laflamme is working on a allowing public input during the virtual meetings. Purple said that he needs Laflamme to walk him through it first before they discuss implementing it. But he summed up that it would allow boards to toggle audience members’ status back and forth from non-participating viewers/listeners to active participants. 

Selectmen indicated that once public input is available through virtual meetings, they may loosen the reins to allow more meetings. The current concern is avoiding boards discussing issues or making decisions on items that the public would normally be able to publicly comment on.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alan March 25, 2020 at 5:00 PM

“Purple pointed out that since meetings take place virtually, they can be held any time of day.” – but for those of us still working, we wouldn’t be able to attend, say, a 10:00a BOS meeting (or, any other meeting in the middle of the day, M-F). What about purchasing a second zoom account? There’s clearly demand. And it’d come at a net positive – aren’t we saving money by not heating buildings, staffing, etc.?

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2 beth March 25, 2020 at 6:07 PM

I don’t see that clear demand. Apparently two meetings can run at once. This week there were only 3 meetings scheduled for the entire week. Planning Board’s only lasted less than 10 minutes and that was clearly intended. A board could have met at 7:30 on Monday or anytime this evening without overlapping a meeting. I also got the impression that additional overlap would increase likeliness of a problematic glitch by spreading IT too thin.

But selectmen said that if a real demand developed for more than two at once they should be alerted so they can address it.

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