Submitted by Kollin Kosmicki
One of the constructive outcomes from the Covid-19 pandemic has been the broad use of remote technology to increase public access to government meetings.
Most of us have become accustomed to one or more of the most common applications, whether it’s Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.
Although most people have probably experienced a learning curve or frustrating quirks with such technology, these apps have been incredibly valuable during times of necessary social distancing. And while we all invariably hope the pandemic ends as soon as possible, that doesn’t have to mean local government bodies should eliminate the use of virtual meeting technology.
To the contrary, I am proposing that San Benito County and other local government entities include virtual meeting access as a permanent fixture—in addition to in-person attendance—once this pandemic is over. Even if the quality of these technologies isn’t necessarily ideal at all times, virtual platforms do provide a tremendous benefit to the public—particularly residents who don’t have the time or ability to attend public meetings in person.
This, inherently, is a very good thing when it comes to public access and transparency.
The ability for residents to take part in government meetings—and offer public comment on issues if they so choose—is an essential fixture in any local government system. Typically during public meetings, residents are asked if they would like to comment on issues and share their viewpoints before decisions are made. These public comments play a crucial role in the process and often lead to specific outcomes for decision makers.
It’s a quintessentially democratic system that lends itself to maximizing transparency, making sure the public has every opportunity to share perspectives, putting pressure on elected leaders and holding government officials accountable.
Historically, the one significant flaw in this system is that many residents don’t have the time or ability to attend these often lengthy meetings, especially San Benito County board gatherings that take place in morning hours.
That is where Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms can—and should—help to at least partially fill the void.
Of course, even with this addition to the slate of opportunities for public involvement, it doesn’t mean the system is perfect. People have to work. They have other personal obligations that often take precedent. Sometimes residents merely aren’t aware certain matters are under consideration.
As a longtime advocate for open government access in San Benito County, though, I can say with certainty that allowing virtual access to public meetings—along with allowing traditional in-person involvement—would improve the level of openness in local government.
For that reason, local government bodies should implement plans to permanently include such virtual meeting access for the public.
Kollin Kosmicki is a candidate for San Benito County Supervisor District 2