Local governments across the Commonwealth, including Hull’s boards, commissions, and committees, have been given approval to continue holding remote meetings through March 31, 2023, if they wish to do so.
That said, the select board will continue to meet in person, Hull Select Board Chair Jennifer Constable told The Hull Times. Other town boards have the ability to decide on their own in which format to conduct their hearings and meetings.
“While the [remote] capability has provided many benefits, in-person meetings allow an efficiency and interaction that is not achieved virtually,” she said. “With real-time access through Hull TV, and while it remains safe to do so, the select board has decided to continue its in-person meetings.”
The school committee will continue to meet in person as it has for some time “unless public health guidelines dictate otherwise,” School Committee Chair Stephanie Peters told The Hull Times. Citizens have the option to watch the meetings live on hulltv.net.
The extension was approved by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker just prior to the July 15 expiration of an earlier COVID19-related provision allowing remote access to meetings through various videoconferencing formats, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and webinars.
Remote access using these platforms under the current extension fulfills the requirements of the state’s Open Meeting Law.
“The option to meet virtually has allowed boards and committees the necessary flexibility to continue their work in a safe and accessible manner during unusual circumstances, and this has been a tremendous benefit,” Constable said. “Virtual and hybrid meetings may become more routine, but considerable resources are needed to ensure that they are a viable option going forward. The extension allows time for communities to develop policies, procedures, and resources to ensure that virtual and hybrid meetings can be a seamless and more permanent option.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts website, the ACLU, along with other advocates of extending the remote meeting option, including Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, Disability Law Center, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, MASSPIRG, New England First Amendment Coalition, and New England Newspaper & Press Association, released a joint statement in response to the granting of the March 31, 2023 extension.
While pleased that remote access to, and participation in, public meetings remains an option through March, this group of advocates expressed disappointment that the Massachusetts Legislature did not agree on permanent reforms.
“Lawmakers must prioritize this issue at the start of the next session. Massachusetts can’t afford to shut the door on members of the community who have too often been left out of our political process. Providing Bay Staters with the option to remotely participate in public meetings makes the democratic process more accessible for people with disabilities, those who may not have access to reliable transportation, have caretaking responsibilities, or are unable to take a leave of absence from work, among other daily challenges. We must not return to an inequitable past as the Commonwealth moves forward,” the statement reads, in part.
The goal of the ACLU and the other groups is to permanently update the Open Meeting Law to require a hybrid meeting format.