If you wanted to, you can watch Deschutes County Commission and Bend City Council meetings from home. That was true even before the pandemic.
Spoiler alert! They tend to be low wattage. Exceptions do happen. Debates can get feisty. Public testimony can be passionate and compelling. A Bend City Council meeting did burst into song. And taxes, zoning, parking, homelessness, policing and other things that can have a major impact on your life do get discussed. Still, not many people choose to tune in.
Being able to watch government meetings from home and even participate remotely is a convenience that the pandemic has brought to Oregon. It should stay.
Since the pandemic began, meetings such as those of the Bend La Pine School Board have been easily accessible online. The Bend Park & Recreation District has also been available. The Oregon Legislature has regularly allowed remote testimony this session.
House Bill 2560 would require many government bodies to make meetings remotely accessible, including the opportunity for people to submit testimony. Not having to be present is a tremendous step forward in accessibility for Oregon government.
Of course, actually being at the meeting may be the best way to see what is going on and provide feedback. But more people will be able to participate in their government if the Legislature makes this change. This bill should pass.
It will come with a cost.
Some of the technology has already been acquired because of the pandemic.
But when boards and commissions start meeting in their regular settings again, it will require cameras and not just finding a way to broadcast Zoom or WebEx meetings.
For instance, the Bend-La Pine Schools has been working on figuring out how much it would cost to retrofit its meeting room with cameras. It could cost the district tens of thousands of dollars.
We believe that would be money well spent.
The forced change to remote access has greatly increased the number of people who can participate in their government. If the legislators, local governments and school boards don’t want that, we are in trouble.