The Times-News on the importance of technology amid the pandemic:
Video conferencing services such as Zoom have quickly become household names due to the COVID-19 crisis.
These services have allowed workers to do their jobs remotely and still communicate in realtime with their co-workers and managers.
Government officials also relied on services such as Zoom to conduct their regular meetings. After all, city and state business must go on.
Schools also used these services to communicate with their teachers and students so that education could continue while the status of the remaining school year was determined.
Can you imagine how business and education would have handled a pandemic five or 10 years ago? We imagine back then the challenges and lasting impacts on our communities would’ve been even larger. That is a somewhat scary thought.
The importance of still being able to conduct business from a distance cannot be understated. However, nothing matches in-person interactions to convey thoughts, emotions and information.
That goes for business relationships. It goes for interpersonal relationships. And it goes for the relationship between government bodies and their citizens.
As our community wades into reopening the economy, government boards should also be making plans to reopen their meetings to the public.
We aren’t advocating going back to the old ways of holding in-person meetings, at least until adequate testing and vaccinations are available.
But we’ve seen from the governor’s press conferences that people can socially distance from one another while still being in the same room. They just sit or stand far apart.
We’ve also seen how reporters at those press conferences maintain their own safe distance from one another. Some form of that could be employed for attendance at public meetings.
Some vulnerable citizens, like senior citizens, should continue to avoid in person meetings for the me being to protect themselves.
It’s important that we not rush into returning to “normal,” so as not to encourage a second wave of the disease. But the suspension of live, in-person government meetings, was never intended to be permanent.
It’s important for the operation of our government that citizens be able to observe and face their public officials in person.
As we approach a return to normal, meetings should still continue to be streamed online to ensure as many citizens as possible can view them.
The more citizens that are informed the better off this community can become.
The Crossville, Tennessee Chronicle on technology increasing government access to residents during pandemic:
In perhaps one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 health crisis, the need to broadcast public meetings held electronically is allowing more people to observe how their government operates.
Our local governments have had to overcome a few hurdles. Facebook, for example, sets limits on how long you can be live in a 24-hour period. They’ve also changed some technology requirements.
That caused a hiccup in Saturday’s interviews for director of schools. Kudos to Elbert Farley, the technology director for the school system, who quickly adjusted to the circumstances and had videos of each of the hour-long interviews posted that afternoon.
Our school system and Crossville city government have broadcast their meetings — either through audio for the city or on Facebook Live for the school system — for several years.
The county, hampered by the lack of a full-time technology director and some technology issues at the Cumberland County Courthouse, has had to adjust quickly to this new way of conducting government business.
Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster has posted those recordings within just a few minutes of the meetings being adjourned.
The order allowing our legislative bodies to meet in this way has been extended through June 30, so we can expect this new normal to continue a while longer. But we hope all our legislative bodies continue to make recordings of these meetings available to the public. Anything that allows more people to witness first hand the actions of their elected leaders is a positive thing.
Electronic meetings have come about due to necessity. They do not replace all the facets of face-to-face meetings that are vital to openness and transparency.
These electronic meetings are but another tool to keep everyone informed. We hope all local governments continue to provide this expanded public access in the future.