With the return to in person meetings in Seabrook for the Board of Selectmen and all boards and commissions the question has come as to whether there are some aspects to “remote meetings” that can be utilized in the future. The likely end to the emergency regulations in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts has led to debate about whether some aspects of the emergency regulations that allowed public bodies to meet remotely should be retained.
Our experience, in Seabrook, has been that remote meetings have brought a significant increase in public participation. There are likely several reasons for this that are not that hard to figure out. Once the public became comfortable with the technology (Zoom in our case) the convenience of remote participation drove greater public input and participation in local municipal meetings. With screen capture and the ability to make full presentations readily available through the available technology Planning and Zoning Boards have been able to seamlessly continue to work through remote meetings.
As we do return to pre-pandemic law governing public meetings both states are looking at legislation to allow for some continuation of the ability to conduct “remote meetings.” In Seabrook we have managed to return to in person meetings while still allowing the public to interact with our Boards and Commissions via Zoom. This hybrid model allows the Zoom participant to interact with, both visually and through audio, the municipal board in session. We have managed to utilize the technology without any problems for the past month, and will continue to do so.
In Massachusetts the Massachusetts Municipal Association has advocated for retention of some aspects of remote meetings. A trio of Massachusetts Town Managers offered compelling testimony in favor of retention of some of the pandemic rules before the State Legislature. With new technology getting better and making public participation easier reverting to pre-pandemic rules is not the best way forward.