Public Meetings… Online

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How To Make Them Functional, Legal, and Otherwise Successful

It is well known that people interact with each other better when they are face-to-face. For clear communication and decision making, meetings are better than phone calls, phone calls are better than e-mail, e-mail is better than text messaging, and text messaging is better than nothing (…sometimes). Regardless of the communication channel, the public’s right to transparency from their government doesn’t change with a crisis, but the demand for it does.

Cities and towns are currently on an emergency footing, and public meetings are being cancelled or postponed. This has a particularly negative impact on things such as land use development applications. Some cities and towns have tried to navigate meetings online for the first time, without understanding that they need to give themselves permission to do so.

Utah state statute requires public bodies to adopt a rule, resolution, or ordinance that permits them to conduct their business online (UCA § 52-4-207). Governor Gary Herbert recently issued an executive order (available at this link) that allows Utah cities and towns to conduct online meetings even though they might not have a rule in place, however, they are expected to adopt such a resolution, rule, or ordinance as soon as practical. 

civiclinQ believes there are five things that will make online public meetings successful for any city or town:

  1. All meetings, workshops, and events with a quorum of members present – especially if they are conducting city or town business – need to be noticed formally. The notice needs to include the way(s) people can participate in the meeting, workshop, or event. 
  2. The meeting hose will need to provide training to both council/commission/board members and the public on how to use the electronic meeting platform. This will likely involve instructions on muting their phone and changing their backgrounds.
  3. Cities and towns will need to record the meeting and then post/make the video recording available to the public. The Open and Public Meetings Act still applies and minutes need to be ADA accessible.
  4. If the council/commission/board members want to go into a closed session, a new, additional online meeting link will need to be provided by the meeting host. This new, additional online meeting will still need to be recorded, even though the recording will not be publicly shared. Once the closed session has been completed, if there are remaining agenda items which are open to the public the council/commission/board members should return back to the original meeting link to complete their discussions.
  5. Residents will expect this capability in the future. There are a number of quality software providers that range in cost from $10 to $25/month. Over the long-term cities and towns should consider outfitting council chambers/conference rooms with software/hardware that provides a clear audio and video signal. Procurement decisions related to software need to be made with security as the primary concern. Required features should include:
    • ability to facilitate two-way communication between participants and council/commission/board members.
    • host-only control for screen sharing (restricts attendees from sabotaging a public meeting with offensive or irrelevant content).
    • ability to disable file transfer capabilities.
    • ability to remove participants and keep them removed.
    • ability to hide personal phone numbers of participants that are joining by phone (ensuring the phone number of the mayor, applicant, etc. doesn’t get advertised).

Online meetings are here to stay, and we want to help you be successful! If we can help you ‘try before you buy’ a meeting online, please let us know by emailing: [email protected].

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