With the onset of the global pandemic came one benefit to local politics: more accessible select board and school board meetings. Before the pandemic, Mad River Valley residents spent weeknights driving through sleet, snow and mud-covered roads to get a chance to speak to their select board members about important town issues.
Last year, those seeking to participate in school board meetings might have driven over 15 miles to Harwood Union High School. Not only was the commute undesirable and carbon footprint unfriendly; attending three-hour evening meetings was nearly impossible for those saddled with child care responsibilities.
However, when Zoom meetings became the new norm during the pandemic, community engagement in local politics became a norm as well. Suddenly, community members with children could tune into meetings from home
But Zoom meetings aren’t beneficial to parents alone. Those who live in The Valley seasonally have also shown more consistent community engagement, for Zoom allows you to tune in from anywhere in the world.
Many select board members in The Valley noted the increase in community participation in meetings since the start of the pandemic and some boards will strive to keep it up by continuing remote access to meetings long after boards transition back to in-person meetings. Waitsfield purchased a pivot camera so viewers can tune in from afar and have good view of each speaker. The Warren and Fayston Select Boards have stated their intent to continue to providing remote access to meetings through Zoom. The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board has yet to take an official stance on the matter, though it expects to continue remote meeting access through the end of the school year. Only the Moretown Select Board has stated that it will return to in-person meetings with no remote access.
But why? After a successful remote trial period, why wouldn’t the Moretown Select Board at least consider maintaining remote access to meetings? Board and commission members have long bemoaned the lack of public participation in the process and the pandemic and Zoom provided ample evidence that people will participate if it is made convenient and easy. Providing remote access to meetings does that. Let’s make remote access to public meetings the new norm.