Albany Times Union
Hybrid model will maximize public meeting access
Necessity was the mother of invention. Among the many aspects of civic and social life that went remote during COVID were public meetings where New Yorkers spoke their opinions on administrative rules and decisions at every level of government, from rezonings to education regulations and more.
With the coronavirus tearing through our city and little in the way of effective treatment and prevention, it made good sense for meetings to follow the lead of classes, therapy sessions and court proceedings and go online. Subsequent attempts to invalidate such meetings were largely in bad faith; if a remote criminal arraignment or U.S. Supreme Court argument is legit, so is a remote public hearing.
Indeed, beyond slowing COVID’S spread, this response to the crisis had a beneficial side effect: It allowed New Yorkers with disabilities, the elderly and anyone else who might not want to trek to, say, the MTA board’s early morning meetings in Lower Manhattan to still have a voice in decision-making.
As vaccination rates climb, children return to school, employees return to their offices and life slowly winds its way back to some semblance of normality, agencies and legislative bodies across government are pondering a return to in-person public comments. That’s as it should be. There is value to giving New Yorkers the ability to directly face officials and make themselves heard. If you lack broadband or can’t work Zoom but can get on the subway, in-person meetings are your ticket to participatory government.
Luckily, there’s no need to choose one or the other. The technology exists for city and state boards and panels to easily allow both in-person and electronic engagement. With a few simple guidelines, such as ensuring that virtual comments are properly recorded and published along with live video, audio and meeting minutes, it should be painless for a hybrid model to become the norm.
Make New Yorkers feel like real stakeholders in and contributors to the processes that govern their lives — whether they’re live or Memorex.
The technology exists for city and state boards to easily allow both in-person and electronic engagement. It should be painless for a hybrid model to become the norm.