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OPINION

Editorial: The public should have safe access to meetings

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
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A few weeks ago, we ran an editorial praising the City of Keyser and the Mineral County Board of Education for taking their meetings online as the county’s positive COVID numbers continued to skyrocket.

It was the right thing to do in order to help secure their own safety, not to mention the safety of anyone wishing to attend their meetings, and it also fell in line with regulations set forth by the West Virginia Open Meetings Act, in that it made the meetings accessible to the public.

Granted, the Keyser City Council hit an annoying sound snag during the live streaming of their Dec. 9 meeting, but they were able to fix it and we trust it will not be a problem for their next meeting in January.

And while “attending” a board of education meeting is a bit more complicated in that you must be given the Zoom login, it is also more easily followed because you are able to watch as a silent participant with a front-row seat, so to speak.

And of course, whether a  meeting is live streamed or zoomed, you can access them either by computer or phone.

In addition to these two entities, the Town of Westernport mayor and council are also zooming their meetings, and post the link on the town’s Facebook page for anyone who wants to listen in.

But what about all the other governmental bodies in our coverage area?

The Mineral County Commission continues to meet in person, as do the Cities of Piedmont, Ridgeley, Carpendale and Elk Garden.

It is not only our position that this “status quo” method of meeting is not only not safe for all involved, but it is also doing a disservice to those who are interested in what’s happening in our county and cities.

At one time, the Piedmont City Council was live streamed, but it was videoed by a private citizen and posted to his own Facebook page.

When he stopped attending meetings for safety purposes, the live streaming stopped.

It is our position that all these governmental bodies have a responsibility to go online with their meetings - whether we are in the midst of a pandemic or not.

Attending a meeting in person of course is optimal, but when you can’t attend for whatever reason, being able to watch it or listen in is the next best thing.

AND it helps that governmental body be in compliance with the law when the state is under a mandate which limits attendance by the public.

If the elected officials themselves want to continue to meet in person, that is entirely their decision. However, the public should be given the option to access the meeting online.

It doesn’t take much at all to live stream a meeting. It just takes a cell phone, wifi, a Facebook or similar page to stream to, and some sort of tripod to hold the phone.

If wifi is not available, you could at least record the meeting and make that recording available later on Facebook or your website.

Set the phone up close to the subjects for optimal vision and sound, and press the button. It’s as simple as that.

It may take some experimentation to find the best place to position the phone for sight and sound, as the City of Keyser found out, but it can be done.

The people of this area deserve easy access to our governmental meetings, and they deserve to be able to enjoy that access safely.