Editorial: Pandemic reveals options to engage public in governance

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Many of those whose employment continued relatively unabated despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have been holding face-to-face meetings through one of the many online video conferencing options now available on the market—to the point where many are claiming to be just about Zoomed-out—but many have discovered that the online and teleconference options being embraced have decidedly upped their productivity.

Long hours on the road have evaporated into the few seconds it takes to log onto the system and adjust their camera angles to suit and conversations tend to get down to the point faster using the online medium. Then there is the added benefit of vastly reduced mileage costs for businesses and an associated reduction in wear and tear on vehicles.

While the video conferencing option is not perfect, particularly for those living in rural areas with less than ideal internet speeds, those same jurisdictions are able to connect relatively well through the use of a landline or cell phone.

Another aspect of attending public meetings that has been commented upon by staff of The Expositor covering numerous council meetings are the number of members of the public who also log on. It is relatively uncommon for more than one or two members of the public to attend a council meeting unless there is an item of personal interest or significant controversy to be discussed. But with the advent of the Zoom revolution, many more are now logging in to check out what is happening in their municipality. 

Even though the standard rules apply, with limited to no interaction with the mayor and councils at the table, the increase in attendance seems to be among the new norm. This is a healthy development and it is to be hoped, and encouraged, that such interest continues long after the pandemic has passed.

While it is true that the vast majority of council meetings verge somewhat over the edge of mind-bendingly boring when dealing with the mundane minutiae of governance, it can be an eye-opening experience to watch our elected officials at work.

It is an extremely simple process to join a council meeting while the meetings are being held via video conferencing, but very few municipalities have instituted measures to make their meetings available when those meetings are held in person around the council table. The experience of video conferencing demonstrates that people will tune in and take an interest in what is happening vis-à-vis governance in their communities if there was a simple option available.

Better yet, and even more applicable to more senior levels of government further removed from their constituents, the video conferencing software platforms have chat options where those watching could make real-time commentary and suggestions that would greatly enhance feedback to the government and elected representatives that could further the goals of peace, order and good government considerably, while encouraging more people to take on an active role in governing.

This should be a wake-up call to governments at all levels to make better connections with the people they represent and serve. It simply makes sense.