Remote access to public meetings a pandemic legacy to celebrate

MORE ACCESS: John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, says the General Assembly needs to pass legislation preserving remote access to public meetings after the pandemic ends. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
MORE ACCESS: John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, says the General Assembly needs to pass legislation preserving remote access to public meetings after the pandemic ends. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

There are few positive things the pandemic will be remembered for, but the ability of government to be able to reach out to more citizens through public meetings via Zoom and other online platforms should be one of them.

“The pandemic showed us people could participate [in government] remotely,” said John Marion, Common Cause Rhode Island executive director. “The public has responded by showing up.”

But how long they’ll continue to be able to do so is uncertain in most communities. An executive order issued by Gov. Daniel J. McKee allowing public government meetings to be held virtually expires at the end of the month. Mr. Marion does not expect it to be renewed.

Common Cause and other groups are pressing the General Assembly to pass legislation preserving remote access to public meetings. That’s because not all local officials like remote access. The reasons include increased costs and aversions to more openness or longer meetings, he says.

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What’s best for the public, however, are hybrid, in-person meetings with remote access. And state lawmakers should pass legislation allowing local communities to make that a pandemic legacy worth celebrating.

It’s a topic Mr. Marion’s group and others will be discussing via Zoom on March 23, in recognition of Sunshine Week. It’s an annual reminder of the importance of open government and freedom of information. Events around the country educate the public on these rights and the need to fight to preserve and strengthen them.

You can register for the local discussion at Commoncauseri.org.

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