Vol. II No. 16 8/15/2021
Welcome to Stockbridge Updates Town Square - The gatherings in the Town Square of old were vibrant and informal. The discussions were the stuff of our nation's history. We can replicate it here in our local — very local — newspaper Stockbridge Updates. There are issues before us that would benefit from community discourse. Weigh in.
A reader, Anita Schwerner, suggested the topic for this issue: What are people's opinions about continuing to have a remote option for all Stockbridge board, committee and commission meetings?
From Anita Schwerner:
A remote option is necessary if we want to have an informed electorate. It's not always possible physically or logistically to attend in person whether you live here full or part-time. Second homeowners who attended the July 15 select board meeting expressed their appreciation of being able to participate remotely and their desire to have it continue. The minutes of a meeting don't provide enough information to understand what was said in a timely manner.
Most town public bodies are already holding hybrid meetings that enable attendance in person as well as remotely via Zoom.
It's debatable whether remote access is required by law or just desired by town citizens. I've had many emails and calls about whether or not Governor Baker's June 16th extension means that it is necessary to provide remote access. Some interpret the first part of the law to mean that a remote option is not required if the meeting is held in person and the public can attend.
However, the second part requires a remote option for committee members. It states: "Second, the new law authorizes all members of a public body to continue participating in meetings remotely; the Open Meeting Law's requirement that a quorum of the body and the chair be physically present at the meeting location remains suspended."
Since a remote option is required for committee members, why wouldn't the town also provide remote access for the public? Our select board gets to decide on this so please share your opinion.
I hope for a lively discussion in Town Square. Town Square provides a really interesting forum for discussion. Thank you.
Although I am the chairperson of the Stockbridge Democratic Town Committee, I am writing this as a private citizen.
From a Poll of Second Homeowners:
"Would you prefer a Zoom participation option ALWAYS be offered (in addition to being able to attend in person)?" Results: Yes 93.8%; Doesn't matter to me — 3.7%; No — 2.5%
From Carl Sprague:
I strongly support continued remote access to Town meetings — both for board members and for public participants. This last year has shown us how effectively these communications work. Thanks to the excellent support of Community Television for the Southern Berkshires (CTSB), we've benefited from greater transparency and better records of board deliberations. For myself, I frequently work away from home, I would probably have to resign from my positions on the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission were remote participation not possible.
From Bruce Blair:
Real democracy allows for citizen access to government proceedings in a variety of ways. The founding fathers quite rightly demanded that the content of all government sessions be recorded in detail. Thus, the Congressional Record.
But there is no reason that 300 million people need to be actually sitting in the halls of Congress for their voices to be heard. Nor in Stockbridge do we all need to be cramming into our town hall for a Planning Board or Select Board meeting in order to participate and express ideas. The tradition of writing to your elected officials goes back to the founding of the nation. Millions of letters have been sent to Congress. Millions of phone calls. Millions of emails. And now millions of Zoom log-ons across the land bolster the democratic process.
With today's technology, we have an opportunity to establish a permanent new level of transparency and foster a well-informed community of Stockbridge voters. Of course, there must be some rules, within reason, to allow committees to do their work. But by continuing to allow for Zoom transmissions as a permanent feature of town meeting life, we are a richer community. I am struck by how much is lost when I read the minutes of our Boards after watching a meeting. I blame no one for this, it's a hard job. But we have the answer.
Zoom helps voters become informed. They are more likely to turn out for elections or run for office, contribute new thinking, help solve problems. The shut-ins, the 2nd shift workers, the business travelers, the people with colds or the flu each winter, young and old from every part of town can still become a part of the town government process that belongs to all of us.
I ask the Select Board Chair to support continuing this important feature which so clearly enhances small town democracy.
Stockbridge Updates joins in:
Stockbridge is lucky in the level of citizen interest and engagement. It is rich in volunteers and folks willing to run for office. Stockbridge is populated with folks who have opinions and are willing to share; folks who have talent and ability and are willing to share. It seems the people want to be informed and Town government benefits if it makes every effort to inform the people.
It is admirable that the Town Administrator has equipped the Select Board meeting room with all the necessary tools to Zoom and record. Admirable that he is willing to train in how to use the equipment (which he promises is easy). It is great that CTSB airs all meetings recorded. Everything seems to be in place to bring the government to the people. Most of the committees, commissions, and boards are already availing themselves of this popular option. Bravo!
All that remains is for the Select Board to adopt the policy suggested by Selectman White: a uniform policy of remote access to all meetings. (See Notes from the SB Meeting below).
Photo: John Hart