With Vermont approaching the vaccination numbers that Governor Phil Scott has stated will result in all restrictions being lifted, local governmental boards, nonprofits, organizations and commissions are working out what do when all public meetings are allowed with no restrictions and specifically working on the question of whether remote access will still be allowed for the public and board members themselves who are out of town.
Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, boards and commissions initially adopted conference calls but then most quickly moved to Zoom or other digital platforms. Some (Waitsfield) purchased additional equipment including a camera (Owl) that pivots to each speaker to make it easier for those viewing from home or afar to follow the meeting.
The Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston Select Boards do plan to continue to provide remote/digital access for the public and board members who can’t make meetings. These boards will either use a system similar to Waitsfield’s or some other technology to improve the public’s viewing experience. Duxbury has discussed the issue, but not decided. The Moretown Select Board recently decided to return to in-person meetings with no remote access for the public provided.
The minutes of the last meeting on the subject read:
Meeting in Person: everyone put in their thoughts, there should be room for the select board to spread out; have room for the media and one guest at a time. People that would like to attend could stand on the porch and listen through the windows, (which will be open).
AnnMarie Harmon, chair of the Waitsfield Planning Commission, said that she and the vice chair agree that conducting Zoom meetings has been more helpful than they expected.
“Not only in keeping us safe from COVID, but it gives us the opportunity to have greater involvement from not only our members but the community at large. It is our intention to stay with the Zoom ,” Harmon said.
Michael Ketchel, chair of the Warren Planning Commission, said that his commissioners had not yet discussed the issue and there was no response from Doug Day, the chair of the Fayston Planning Commission.
Jito Coleman, chair of the Warren Conservation Commission, said his group might switch back to all in-person when the timing is right.
“Zoom has been easier and more convenient for us, but we are missing the closer encounters,” Coleman said.
Liza Koitzsch, chair of the Fayston Conservation Commission, and Curt Lindberg, chair of the Waitsfield Conservation Commission, plan to continue to meet via Zoom rather than in person.
“It has been much easier to get people to participate this way, especially those juggling kids and work schedules. I will advise if we decide to change that,” she said.
At the Harwood Unified Union School District, (HUUSD) board chair Torrey Smith said she is assuming the remote access for the public will be continued, but that the board hasn’t discussed it. HUUSD Board meetings saw a lot of public attendance prepandemic and that participation increased over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liza Walker, chair of the board of the Mad River Valley Recreation District, said her board has not yet decided when they will return to in-person meetings and whether to continue to offer a hybrid with in-person and remote access.
“Anecdotally, I’d say yes, remote meetings have provided a convenience which has allowed more people to attend or for people to arrive late, leave early, as needed,” when asked if attendance had increased during the Zoom months.
“Rotary is going to in-person meetings and will continue to hold a Zoom option as well. It makes sense for us as some members are in other areas of the country seasonally. The Zoom option was a positive byproduct of the pandemic,” said Mad River Valley Rotary club spokesperson Linda Levin.
Rotarian Karl Klein said that local Rotarians return to in-person meetings in June. Klein, who is also chair of the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition board, said the coalition had not yet confirmed.
“It’s not something that we’ve discussed in either direction. I like the idea of continuing access remotely for the meetings because it allows more participation,” Klein said.
FRIENDS OF THE MAD RIVER
Corrie Miller, executive director of Friends of the Mad River, said her organization would continue to provide a remote access.
“As we have broadening choices, we can be more thoughtful about when we offer which venue for a meeting. Remote meetings were quite well attended and seemed to reduce barriers that some people have. And, let's save fossil fuels when we can,” Miller said.
Ross Saxton, executive director of Mad River Path, said his board would go back to in-person meetings at some point.
“But we haven’t determined when yet. Most of us are fully vaccinated. We’ll likely offer a Zoom option when we are back to in-person,” Saxton said.