Selectman wants to open up meetings to email comments (with POLL)

Back in January, the Board of Selectmen started broadcasting their meetings live on public access television. Selectman John Rooney said at the time he would like a way to make the experience a bit more interactive for the viewing public. In his first act as the board’s new chairman last week, he proposed a way to do just that.

Rooney said he would like to set up an email address that residents could send questions and comments to during board meetings. Emails would be monitored while the meeting was in progress by the Town Administrator and passed along to the board as appropriate.

“Attendance here is very rarely standing room only,” Rooney said of the board’s meetings. He said he hoped giving residents a way to comment from home would open up the meeting to a larger audience and encourage more participation.

But not everyone agreed.

“I can’t support that,” Selectman Bill Boland said of the proposal. Boland said it would not be fair to those bringing business before the board to allow residents at home to comment.

“I’m more a believer that if you want to participate, you should come out and speak your opinion,” he said.

Boland also said he was concerned emails from residents would bog down the meeting, and that there would be no way to verify the identity of the sender.

Rooney said those emailing questions or comments would need to identify themselves just as they would if speaking at the meeting in person, so there would be no “cloak of anonymity.”

While in favor of providing alternate ways to participate, Selectman Dan Kolenda said he was concerned the email approach would not allow for the sort of back and forth discussion that can take place in person.

Rooney admitted that the proposal only has value if residents are interested in the idea, and if they are in fact watching the live broadcast of Board of Selectmen meetings.

The board will discuss the idea at their meeting tonight. What do you think? Is the proposal a good one? Would you take advantage of the opportunity to participate from the comfort of your couch? Answer the poll below and then share your thoughts in the comments.


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southsider
10 years ago

I agree with Messrs Boland and Kolenda. The thought has some merit but the delivery and execution has not been thought through and sounds overly complicated and cumbersome at best. And do we really want the Town Administrator to be monitoring – (does that mean screening?) – emails during Selectmen meetings? By the way, how do you screen emails in a way that everyone thinks is fair?

No Way
10 years ago

Now the Selectmen would be bogged down in emails instead of other minutia. At Town Meeting, we were trying to free them up to tackle the big issues in town. People can go to the Selectmen’s meetings if they are interested in expressing their opinions. I would imagine that they could always send a letter or maybe an email to the selectman to express opinions on a topic, but these letters or emails would need to be sent before or after a meeting not during it. That would be so distracting!

Al Hamilton
10 years ago

Let’s give John Rooney credit for trying to find a way to increase citizen participation in our government. There is a great wailing and gnashing of teeth on this board about the lack of participation in govt. John has the gumption to try and actually do something about it.

If it works, great, if it does not then lets move on but it is worth a try.

The job description of the new TA appears as though it will be taking a lot of the minutiae off the plates of the Selectmen so more lengthy debates about a smaller number of larger issues might benefit from more input not less.

John Boiardi
10 years ago

If a person can watch a town meeting on television and vote using email, why can’t that same person attend the town meeting and vote in person?
The movement in the country today is toward photo ID’s or positive identification cards such as driver licenses. Our efforts should be to encourage people to physically participate and vote. Somewhere down the road electronic town meetings and electronic voting may be safeguarded and a reality. In my opinion we are not there yet.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

John

There are any number of reasons why someone might want to watch a Selectmen’s meeting and ask a question by email. These include:

A busy parent who has to watch the children and make sure they do their homework.

A person with mobility problems

Someone who finds themselves out of town on the night something that they are interested in is being discussed.

Someone who might have to work during the hours the board meets but can take a break to listen to a matter of importance.

I agree with you that personal participation is preferred but the reality is that it is on the decline and we have the opportunity to use these new media (well not so new any more) to expand participation.

As for internet voting in Mass. Not in my lifetime, the odds of the Republicans taking the State House and Senate are greater. The current system delivers reliable Democratic majorities in both houses what incentive does the legislature have to change a system that reliably puts them in office year after year after year?

Let’s give John Rooney’s plan to permit citizens to ask questions in real time by email a try. Who knows it might work well. If not then we can scrap it.

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