The pandemic hysteria has put the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in a peculiar bind. The conflict between the size limitations on public gathers and the large size of the RTM is driving the need for a different way to run meetings. During 2020, they were limited to zoom meetings, then recently, they went to 100 in the room. This is planned to open up is supposed to start May 10. However, there is an ongoing debate. Who knows what could happen at the last minute?
The RTM has some 230 members. The size has remained despite efforts to reduce it. By contrast, Stamford, the city next door, with twice the population has a board of representatives with 40 members. The RTM has been regarded as unwieldy yet it manages to debate issues, get budgets passed on a timely basis. Yet, for such a large body, which can be regarded as a political farm team, it has produced remarkably few people who have risen to higher office.
While the current emergency public health measures limit attendance in the Central Middle School auditorium to 100 people at a time, the solution is to include others RTM members in a zoom broadcast for those who are at home. It is not considered a desirable answer when having to manage such a large number of people online. So, there is understandable pressure from officials to return to the good old days of full open meetings.
This raises a question. What about the public? It is a public meeting. If it is treated that way, an already large audience will grow even larger. It is a management problem. Does it work? Are participants satisfied with this approach? One would find some who like it, but the general sentiment suggests online meetings are way over-rated.
An editorial comment is for them to consider doing it anyway. Florida and other states have long done away with these limitations. In Connecticut’s case, enough time has passed to show that the imposed limitations did NOTHING to limit the spread of the virus. If the “safe distance” for schools can be reduced to 3 feet, so can public meetings.
The culture of larger groups of people who know each other is special, unique and a key part of how any legislative body operates. The hybrid model is a half solution that impairs how business really gets done. So, the sooner these restraints are eliminated, the better it will be for Greenwich.