Pittsfield Ordinances & Rules Supports Expanded Virtual Participation

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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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.

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State Launches Commission on Clean Heat

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito Administration announced that the members of Massachusetts' first-in-the-nation Commission on Clean Heat were sworn in, helping to advance the Commonwealth's ambitious goals to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions in the buildings sector. 
The Commission, which was created via Executive Order 596, held its first meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, and over the next year will advise the Administration as it works to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050. The Commission membership, representing a wide range of backgrounds and expertise including affordable housing, energy efficient building design and construction, health care and real estate, will identify policies and strategies and recommend a framework to achieve emissions reductions that is well-balanced, affordable, and equitable.
"This Commission brings together a diverse, experienced and thoughtful group of experts and stakeholders to help our Administration develop the policies and strategies we will need to meet the challenges associated with decarbonizing the buildings sector in Massachusetts," said Governor Charlie Baker. "The membership of the Commission on Clean Heat represents a variety of important perspectives that will be critical in the development of balanced, forward-thinking approaches to decarbonization that prioritize innovation, affordability, and equity as we make this transition."
Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Kathleen Theoharides has appointed EEA Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Judy Chang to serve as her designee and chair of the Commission, and its membership reflects a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds from outside stakeholders, including representatives from the fields of affordable housing, energy efficient building design and construction, healthcare, heating system design and technology, real estate, and heating fuel distribution.
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