Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019

Arlington’s Remote Participation Study Committee has presented an interim report that highlights the benefits and concerns of hybrid meetings – held both in-person and remotely.

“The committee studied the benefits of remote access that we enjoyed during the pandemic, to see how they may be applicable after the pandemic is over and whether to incorporate hybrid meetings in the future,” said Mustafa Varoglu, study committee chair told the Select Board on Feb. 7. 

On the one hand, hybrid meetings enable participation by more people, allow the public to tune in for topics of interest during long meetings, and provide flexibility for child-care needs, inclement weather, travel, physical accessibility and other constraints.

However, hybrid meetings involve technical complexity and the potential for audio/visual issues, must ensure parity for in-person and remote members/participants, require a new staff/volunteer role to manage such meetings and entail a loss of social connection when participants are not all in the same room together.

The committee’s report is being referred to the town manager for a budget review of a pilot program. To see the full report, click here >>

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said, “The American Management Association has been advocating for a permanent measure to be put in place.”

However, Town Counsel Doug Heim explained that, “Right now, the board has accepted remote participation, but we cannot expand beyond what the attorney general allows. We need to see what that legislation says. It allows organizations to be stricter, but not more generous.”

3 board members' views

Board Chair Steve DeCourcey said, “I support hybrid communications for committees going forward.

“Remote participation for board meetings during Covid has been a huge benefit; we’ve had remote participation for the open forums and hearings. However, we had better conversations when we met in the Select Board chambers, and I look forward to getting back to that. It’s an ongoing process, and we’ll look at the feasibility of all the suggestions,” said John Hurd.

Board member Eric Helmuth said, “Allowing remote participation may not automatically or inherently bring greater representation. If that’s the case, we’ll need to do more than just set up the technology. We’ll need to work on outreach and with the DEI coordinator [Jillian Harvey], and explain that it’s for them, too.

“These expenses are eligible for ARPA funds. We may want to roll this out to a small number of groups that are interested, and learn from that, and get insight into the technology, budget and staffing. We can do this in a pilot, and then see where we’re at.

“People are pleasantly surprised to see how much easier it is to be involved in government remotely. This is not just a pandemic response—we’re stuck with this, in a good way.”

Board members Diane Mahon and Len Diggins had no comment. 

Watch the whole Feb. 7 Select Board meeting on ACMi:

Feb. 15, 2022: Board recommends preliminary polling locations

This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.