(Updated at 11 a.m.) After more than a year of online-only Arlington County Board meetings, some have decided they actually prefer it to in-person.
Instead of schlepping to a Courthouse office building and sitting quietly for hours, one can now speak at Board meetings at home, in your pajamas if you prefer. Board meetings have been broadcast on local cable TV and online for years, but the virtual format now provides an opportunity to participate in the meetings to those who cannot attend in person.
Parents who would otherwise have to hire a babysitter in order to attend, for instance, are now more likely to be able to speak at a meeting.
Last May, two months into the pandemic, we asked whether the county should “consider making virtual meetings a more regular feature of citizen participation” after the pandemic. About 73% of more than 900 respondents said yes.
At least one civically-engaged local called keeping Board meetings open to virtual participation after the pandemic “a no-brainer.”
I look forward to never struggling to get to the Bozeman building on time again.
— Car-Free #HQ2 (@CarFreeHQ2) April 14, 2021
Of course, there are downsides. Older and disadvantaged residents may lack the technology and/or the know-how to participate in a virtual-only meeting. And there is something to be said for in-person meetings helping to keep elected officials accountable to their constituents.
A hybrid option that allows virtual and in-person participation is an option — in fact, one that the county appears to be pursuing (see below) — though virtual participation could come to be seen as less impactful than speaking at the meeting in person. And it could be more difficult to coordinate the combination of in-person and virtual speakers.
We are ready for when it's safe for everybody – but we learned a few things that will make it easier for residents to continue to participate and testify virtually. For instance: interactive monitors, already installed and functional. pic.twitter.com/Zl1DVKUyvU
— Takis Karantonis (@TakisKarantonis) April 16, 2021
What about streamlining things and making all regularly-scheduled, monthly County Board meetings online-only on a permanent basis after the pandemic, however? Would that be a better idea than a hybrid participation option or the in-person-only way of yore?
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that in order to facilitate virtual-only meetings, Arlington library branches can open during meetings and offer video conference stations from which library staff can help people speak and participate. And the Board can still hold certain special meetings in person.
What do you think?