NORTH STONINGTON — Those hoping to follow town meetings from home will be able to continue to watch and even participate in discussions remotely, but residents will have to attend in person if they want the chance to vote.
North Stonington councils and commissions have continued to use a hybrid format, even as pandemic concerns have subsided, as a way to increase public participation in local government, but with emergency ordinances expiring in the Connecticut, officials have expressed an interest in allowing only eligible residents who are present to vote at city meetings. The decision comes as members of the Board of Selectmen seek to strike a balance that is reasonable, effective for the community and will not discourage public participation.
“I’m all for streaming, but I don’t think we should vote online at town halls because of some of the issues that have arisen in surrounding towns,” coach Brett Mastroianni said. “I think it’s important to keep streaming for more transparency and to just require people to come in if they want to vote.”
The decision to maintain the hybrid format comes as members of the Board of Selectmen seek to improve transparency and encourage greater participation in local decision-making that impacts the community.
City administration and finance officer Christine Dias told members of the Board of Selectmen this week that as of April 30, the city is no longer required to offer online meeting participation options. local. In an effort to save money, Dias requested that the council consider format changes that would allow the city to reduce costs associated with Zoom, Webinar software, or both.
The city currently pays for three Zoom conferencing licenses due to the number and timing of meetings, as well as about $140 per month for the webinar format, she said. It would be relatively easy to continue the hybrid format, she said — provided staff don’t struggle with the challenges and restrictions of online voting at town meetings, i.e. .
“From a technical point of view, it avoids a lot of problems if we only have the vote in the room,” she said.
Mastroianni, first coach Bob Carlson and coach K. Nicole Porter said they all preferred the meetings to be available online, especially since it sometimes caught the attention of an audience that otherwise wouldn’t. could not have attended in person.
Porter said she would also have preferred to see online voting, an effort she hoped would lead to greater input into community-related issues, but she admitted the challenges outweighed the benefits.
Carlson said he would like to continue voting online, but the potential for miscommunication or technical issues having a negative impact is far more detrimental than not providing the option to vote online.
“It’s tough. We just can’t have people coming to these meetings and taking time out of their day just to tell them they can’t vote because someone who didn’t come didn’t can’t get online,” Carlson said.
He noted that while it doesn’t offer voting, the city is already taking additional steps beyond nearby communities, including Stonington, which has returned to in-person meeting formats, to offer different ways for residents to stay informed.
Carlson said the city and the Board of Selectmen will continue to make efforts to improve public access and believes hybrid coverage is already giving residents better access than before the pandemic began.
“We’re a city that’s embraced this format and is trying to do what we can to keep people informed,” Carlson said. “By doing this, I think we’re giving people an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise rather than seeing it as taking something away from them.”
Municipal assembly of June 27
Returning to the in-person voting format, residents will have their first opportunity to voice their opinions on June 28 when several questions will be presented regarding a rental and demolition project at the North Stonington Education Center and the use of American Rescue Plan Act of the city. funds.
Members of the Council of Advisors will present plans for a possible lease of the North Stonington Education Center, located at 298 Norwich-Westerly Road, to an early childhood education center at a public hearing on June 7. The center would occupy the first floor of the high school’s old wing, known as the two-story wing.
This hearing will take place at 7:30 p.m.
Dias said the goal then would be to have finance board members approve draft action plans for the demolition of the single-story wing and the use of American Rescue Plan Act funding on 15 June, and that the elected officials would then hold a special meeting on June 17. to convene the municipal assembly, which should be set for June 27.