Remote participation must be allowed There have been very few silver linings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but realizing the potential of remote participation in municipal meetings has been one of significance. During the statewide lockdowns of
Remote participation must be allowed There have been very few silver linings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but realizing the potential of remote participation in municipal meetings has been one of significance. During the statewide lockdowns of 2020, government bodies not exactly notorious for being able to quickly react to unanticipated incidents of change found themselves forced by necessity to adapt in order to allow the peoples business to go on unimpeded. Some towns and cities have done better than others. While some communities have installed full-blown technological suites within their town halls utilizing multiple cameras and microphones to produce high-quality public meetings, others get by with one old camera and a dodgy Zoom connection. Others are waiting on electronics that may not be delivered until the chip shortage is relieved in 2023 or 2024, and some clearly intend on limping to the uncertain finish line with inadequate tech, unable or unwilling to invest in more due to constrained budgets and no imperative to do differently. And they might have gotten away with it too, but the pandemic has once again, as it has often done, forced its hand through an uptick in positive cases including a troubling trend of cases breaking through vaccinated persons. The result is a repeat of 2020, where members of the public are now shut out of governmental participation out of a rational fear of a renewed risk of catching COVID and jeopardizing or at least disrupting their lives particularly as there is no longer an indoor mask mandate and many people have gone back to, largely, not wearing masks at all, except when forced. But the effect goes beyond the voting public, and extends to the elected officials the public puts in office. Because Rhode Island does not allow its representatives at the state or local levels to participate in an official capacity while remote a temporary executive order allowing this expired over the summer elected officials have the possibility of being shut out of the very democratic process they were entrusted and compelled to participate in. In the current uncertain conditions, where in-person meetings are no longer feasible for members of the public and elected officials who either get sick or have to quarantine due to a close contact, there is no logical reason to prevent remote participation in any capacity. Legislation or a new executive order must be put through immediately to prevent governmental repercussions born from an inability for citizens, elected or otherwise, to participate. In 2021 and beyond, democracy should no longer be required to happen under one roof.
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