Meeting Online: Attendance Is Good, Some Quirks Though

As public meetings in Boston continue to move online more and more, one of the first boards to meet online in the City was the Conservation Commission (Con Com) under Chair Michael Parker, of Charlestown.

Last week, the Con Com held its second public meeting online using the Zoom meeting format and call-in ability as well, and the two hour meeting went very well all things considered.

It has been a learning process, Parker said, but one that they were willing to embark upon in order to prevent a backlog of applications piling up during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“The importance of keeping it going and the real motivation for going online with these meet­ings is the Con Com meets every two weeks and we have mandated deadlines,” he said. “If a pro­ponent files, we have 21 days to decide. We had those deadlines and we weren’t sure immediate­ly how those would be affected so we decided to keep on by going online. We also have a fairly lengthy agenda each meeting and if we waited until June or July to meet, we’d have a tremendous backlog. So, we decided to try a Zoom meeting.”

So far, the public input aspect has gone well, as have the Commission members input – all tuned in by video or phone. There are some hiccups, such as the inev­itable Zoom-bomb at meetings.

“You’re dog’s barking in the background, make it stop,” yelled one anonymous person during the public portion of the April 1 Zoom meeting.

“I don’t know what that was,” said Parker, “but let’s move on.”

Such things happen in a more anonymous online world, but by far, Parkers said there has been greater input and attendance online so far.

“What I’m finding out by hav­ing virtual meetings, the public participation hasn’t really dropped at all by going online,” he said. “The attendance was as much, if not more, as our regular meetings in City Hall. I’m also finding there are more people in the industry that are tuning in to watch meet­ings even if they don’t have any­thing on the agenda, and neigh­bors are calling in to give a lot of input. Maybe it’s a feeling of normalcy.”

Another major reason the Con Com pushed on is to address the City’s recently-approved Wetlands Ordinance (Dec. 23, 2019), which is a major step to addressing cli­mate resiliency and climate change all over Boston. While the ordi­nance has passed, nothing can be done with it until regulations are developed, vetted by the pub­lic and implemented by the Con Com.

Parker said the Commission wanted to keep meeting online so they could develop Phase 1 of those regulations and be ready to have real, in-person meetings later in the year for Phase 2. That, he said, could really help get the ordinance into place.

All of it has added up to keep­ing productive and moving for­ward in a time when most things are stuck.

“It’s pretty interesting to see the Con Com continue its function, just in a different format,” he said.

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