Legislating in the Age of COVID-19: Virtual Meetings



Maintaining continuity during a health crisis

Even in a pandemic, governmental proceedings and processes have to continue. Communities depend on the services and guidance they provide. And in turn, efficient, responsive local governments also depend on constituent input, group consensus, and transparency.

So when physical connections are restricted – and even eliminated altogether – it’s time to find new, innovative ways to maintain essential services, communicate with the community, and provide transparent access to the governing process.

A virtual imperative

Many municipalities and counties have been televising their board meetings on public access channels for decades. But the actual meetings still took place ‘in-person’ and citizen participation occurred in the same room as the board meetings. In the age of COVID-19, with physical distancing and mandated quarantines or lock-downs, government offices have been forced to close and board meetings have moved to using video-conferencing software.

Some communities have found the transition difficult, and the idea of virtual meetings has not been covered in the rules and regulations for town meetings or board sessions. But extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures – and a bit of innovation. And many see it as an opportunity for increasing public participation in the business of government.

Legislating to publicly stream meetings and allow virtual attendance

The push for greater online access to government information and remote processes for paying bills, viewing proceedings, and generally interacting with local government has been ongoing for decades. The recent COVID-19 crisis has simply accelerated the need, and municipalities and counties have not all had the proper policies in place to easily make that transition.

Many communities, including several of our clients, have been drafting and adopting ordinances to allow remote meetings to take place.

Useful examples from the eCode360® Library

If your community is interested in legislating to make virtual/remote meetings possible, a search of our eCode360 Library will help you see what other communities are already doing. Some examples* include:

Village of East Troy, WI – Village Board Amendment

City of Twin Oaks, MO – Open Meetings and Record Policy

Updating municipal codes is vitally important

As local governments continue to adjust and transform digitally to the ever-shifting needs of the COVID-19 era, keeping municipal codes updated has become more essential than ever. It’s important to sustain orderly and accessible knowledge of the most current regulations and resolutions in a timely manner.

We encourage our clients to submit code updates as soon as possible to make sure constituents and local government officials are referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources at all times. Clients can send legislation to [email protected].

Best practices for managing your codification budget

Many of our client communities find it helpful to be on a code update schedule to help manage their expenses throughout the year. Our Client Care Advocates can work with you and explain the options and benefits of scheduled code updates. They can also provide budget guidance for all of your future codification needs, including eCode360 and common code maintenance. Give them a call at 800.836.8834 or send an email to [email protected]. They’d be happy to help or answer any other codification questions you might have.

Resources:

Local Government Goes Virtual During Pandemic

Local Governments Work Out Kinks for Virtual Public-Meetings

Improving citizen engagement in online forums public meetings

Virtual city council meetings boom bust local government

Covid-19 task force e-lert best practices for local governments virtual meetings into the future

Covid accelerates digital transformation

Paddock Lake to keep meeting attendance options open for board members

City council is taking steps to ensure electronic meetings continue until the end of the year

General Code Library

* Your Municipal Attorney should be consulted with regard to content, format and the legal requirements of proposed legislation before enactment.


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