Record editorial: The pandemic will end, but virtual public meetings shouldn’t
It’s a Thursday evening and the Park City Council is addressing funding for the planned arts and culture district in Bonanza Park.
An engaged Parkite, you are eager to listen to the discussion and even plan to offer your own two cents about the project when it’s time for public comment. So you pour yourself a glass of wine, ease onto the couch and crack open your laptop. Your pants are soft and comfy, if you’re wearing them at all.
This is what attending public meetings has looked like in the era of COVID. Among the countless negatives the pandemic has wrought is at least one bright spot: Local governmental bodies holding their meetings on Zoom or other video conferencing platforms, making it more convenient than ever to participate in the public process.
While Summit County residents are eager to say goodbye to so many trends ushered in by the pandemic, this is one that should stay once we’ve thrown away our masks and deleted TikTok from our iPhones. Now that our local governments have mastered the technology, offering residents an option to attend meetings virtually even when coronavirus restrictions are lifted is a common-sense way to serve the community.
Several officials in Summit County — and residents who frequented meetings before COVID — have noted a marked increase in participation since the pandemic struck. The reasons are many. Parents of young children, for instance, may need to hire a babysitter to attend a meeting, which isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun date night. And it’s not rare for meetings to stretch into the late hours of the evening, testing the patience of even the most passionate residents.
To be sure, there’s still something to be said for showing up in person. Public comment is more effectively delivered face to face, for one, and nuance such as how officials are reacting to one another is sometimes difficult to pick up through a computer screen.
But let’s face it: There is a limit to how many residents have the dedication — or the time — to sit through lengthy meetings on a regular basis.
It shouldn’t only be the same people weighing in week after week. Local government benefits from a well-informed populace and feedback from a broad range of voices. In the end, that leads to better outcomes as officials weigh decisions that, collectively, can define a community.
As we’ve seen over the last year, virtual meetings have helped more people join in and play an active role in the direction of their government. There’s no reason that should end when the pandemic does.
It’s certainly more practical than the next-best solution, which is allowing wine at the Marsac Building and County Courthouse. Though it might be a good thing for all of us to get back into the habit of wearing pants, Zoom meetings or not.
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