Pittsfield Ordinances & Rules Supports Expanded Virtual Participation
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A majority of the Ordinances and Rules subcommittee is in favor of adopting a hybrid meeting format for public participation.
On Monday, the subcommittee endorsed a petition offering a virtual and call-in option beyond the pandemic for all public meetings. It was originally brought forward by Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon in the spring.
This was just a vote of confidence and no changes were ordained.
"I'm fine with endorsing [the petition] because I think it's interesting and if it works, that's, that's phenomenal, and if we increase participation, that's a nice kicker," Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said.
In June, Gov. Charlie Baker extended certain COVID-19 measures that were adopted for the state of emergency issued at the start of the pandemic. This allowed remote meetings under the Open Meeting Law until April 2022.
There is no set plan for how the virtual open mic would work but Caccamo said the petition could likely be referred to the city's information technology partner for implementation in the future.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio was the lone vote of opposition in the 3-1 vote. He believes this would only complicate meetings.
"It would be nice to have a hybrid in a perfect world and it all works out well," he said. "I'm really not going to support it, first of all, I think it would become too much confusion between the council and the people coming up and then the president trying to operate a computer."
Maffuccio said when the meetings were solely virtual everyone stressed the importance of returning to in-person correspondence. He also recognized that there was more public participation in a virtual format.
In addition, he was concerned about what would happen when the pandemic was over and Baker's provision of the Open Meeting Law was null.
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey said he supports the petition because the council heard more from the public virtually.
By referring the petition to IT, he said the council may be able to get an idea of the cost and how it would work.
"I figure we may as well have that discussion and get them involved," Kavey said. "But I do have a lot of the same concerns that Councilor Maffuccio does."
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III agreed, adding that the council should let the IT department do their homework to see if the option is viable.
"How can you endorse or improve a concept when it's only a temporary measure?" Maffuccio asked his constituents.
Persip pointed out the inconsistencies of the pandemic and how communities have pivoted to continue to work through it all.
"With COVID Zoom capabilities and things, who would have ever thought two years ago we'd be having council meetings on Zoom, you could ask me January of 2019 did we have the capabilities to do that meeting? No, we didn't," he said.
"I think it doesn't hurt to research, we're not implementing anything until we have some answers, but I think giving IT a head start on doing some research, maybe will be one of the first communities that does it right and does it good."
Caccamo said many other communities like the option of remote participation and believes the state Legislature will eventually implement something to facilitate virtual options beyond the pandemic.
In general, he thinks it would be a good measure for the council.