In June, the Waterbury Select Board will return to in-person select board meetings provided that Governor Phil Scott allows it. However, the board will run meetings at limited capacity. Currently, the meeting room in the Waterbury town office allows 50 people inside, but the select board will only allow a maximum of 25 people inside at a time, if so many were inclined to show up at a select board meeting.
Although the board is ready to return to in-person meetings, it will continue to provide a remote Zoom option for those who want to attend virtually. The board has already purchased special equipment to make hybrid in-person/remote meetings a reality. Specifically, the board purchased a voice-activated camera that swivels 360 degrees to film whomever is speaking, making it easier for people tuning in from home to see and hear meeting participants. The town of Waitsfield purchased similar equipment last year to facilitate Zoom meetings.
“This is an area where the world has changed,” said town manager Bill Shepeluck. “Trying to go back to just in-person meetings, even if COVID is wiped out, I don’t think the public will feel happy about it. For working people, people with families, it’s much easier to tune in from home.”
Shepeluck also noted that since switching to a remote Zoom format, many more community members have showed up for meetings. In fact, one member of the public, Alexia Venafra, spoke up at the meeting to say that Zoom meetings have helped her become a more engaged citizen. She urged the board to continue offering meetings by Zoom, arguing that remote meetings make it easier for those with children to tune into meetings and eliminate the need to drive on snowy roads at night.
While Shepeluk argued that in-person meetings were more effective for sharing information, he agreed that hybrid meetings should be the new norm. Moreover, it allows any board member who may feel uncomfortable meeting in-person to choose a remote connection option.
Board member Micheal Bard agreed: “Hybrid is the way to go.”