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Sun not shining on Zoom meetings

We all remember the anxiety and dread we felt when COVID-19 began entering the news cycle and as lockdowns and restrictions were placed on the county.

We obeyed the rules no matter what color the county was. But now that we have been “green” for months and we are still carrying out inefficient virtual meetings, it is critical that we make the switch to in-person meetings.

While surrounding areas such as Altoona and Tyrone have begun holding open meetings with live streams and encouraging participation, the Hollidaysburg Borough Council and Blair County commissioners remain behind a telephone.

To indefinitely continue virtual-only meetings is to violate the Sunshine Act.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting. It requires that meetings have prior notice, and that the public can attend, participate and comment before an agency takes that official action.

The existence of the Sunshine Act speaks for itself, and most will not argue with the importance of holding in-person meetings rather than having them virtually.

Anyone who has experienced a sloppy, poorly connected Skype call or Zoom session understands the frustrations that come with virtual meetings: connection issues, microphone problems, audio cutting in and out, and many more issues.

A phone conference is almost worse: it is difficult to hear, hard to tell who is speaking and easy for interruptions to occur without remedy.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner once told The Hill that “positive change can’t happen without open and honest dialogue between elected officials and their constituents, and accountability to those we represent is critical for a truly representative government.”

That statement encapsulates the root of the issue: open and honest dialogue is not happening via virtual meetings which limit crowds to those who are tech-savvy.

Public meetings do not require one to endanger his or herself, either: with live streams of the meetings occurring and the option to dial in to call, citizens may choose to express themselves in person or by phone during this time.

Our officials absolutely must begin holding public meetings in order to stop making public participation nearly impossible. It is their democratic duty to do so.

Regis Nale

Secretary & Treasurer

Hollidaysburg Community Watchdog

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