As the City Council returns to session on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, it will be considering whether to return to live meetings. The action item (A-3) will discuss requiring proof of vaccination status, and will also extend to committees and commissions. It’s not entirely a whim of the council; AB 361, which references the Brown Act on keeping meetings accessible to the public, must be updated on a regular basis.
Many people who have spoken to the council online through the pandemic have held that people without internet access were being unfairly deprived of their right to participate. Like the old school attendance joke of “raise your hand if you are absent,” there is no way to prove or quantify this theory.
Because the school board uses Zoom rather than Webex, the public-facing numbers show that holding meetings online has greatly increased the participation. While in-person meetings of the school board often drew an audience of less than a dozen to the chambers at City Hall, Zoom calls have regularly been in the hundreds, with more than one meeting topping out at the 500 attendees capacity.
AB 361 states, “The act generally requires all regular and special meetings of the legislative body be held within the boundaries of the territory over which the local agency exercises jurisdiction, subject to certain exceptions. The act allows for meetings to occur via teleconferencing subject to certain requirements, particularly that the legislative body notice each teleconference location of each member that will be participating in the public meeting, that each teleconference location be accessible to the public, that members of the public be allowed to address the legislative body at each teleconference location, that the legislative body post an agenda at each teleconference location, and that at least a quorum of the legislative body participate from locations within the boundaries of the local agency’s jurisdiction.”
While lifting the restrictions in place to protect public health may have supporters, the ability to hold meeting online may also be key to keeping participation strong.
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