One of the few good things about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it seems to have created a more involved and engaged electorate.
While it is easy to point to the huge turnout in the recent election — President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump had the two highest vote totals in any U.S. presidential election — it is also refreshing to see more and more people, especially in the Valley, participating in public meetings.
Most Valley public meetings, from county commissioners to school boards to town councils, are still meeting remotely. With the recent surge in novel coronavirus cases, don’t expect that to change any time soon.
Many Valley leaders are seeing more attendance and participation in these remote meetings.
Union County Chief Clerk Susan Greene said commissioner’s meetings now regularly attract about 20 to 30 members for online meetings, twice the normal attendance. Sunbury City Council has seen as many as 60 participants online. School board meetings ahead of the reopening in August and September had dozens and dozens of visitors. The majority were on the calls for information purposes only, but many contributed during the public comment section as active participants.
Those are good things.
Clearly some things may be lost in translation in an online call or meeting. There have been some issues about volume or clarity. But many keep coming back to stay involved, to stay engaged and make sure their voices are still heard if they have a question.
“I think people like the convenience of attending from the comfort of their own home, COVID or no COVID,” East Buffalo Township Secretary Stacey Kifolo said.
Some meetings have resumed in person, including those — like the Snyder County Commissioners — who used a bit of creativity to find ways to meet outside when weather permitted.
As the weather changes, however, and some entities resume or continue in-person indoor meetings, proper mitigation — the same things we have had drilled into our heads for nine months now, masks, social distancing, washing hands — remains a critical component to these meetings.
So it was disappointing to see the frustration and a bit of resentment in Monroe Township, where elected officials did not wear masks during a recent meeting, despite signs outside the meeting clearly indicated they were required.
We have all learned enough over time to understand what needs to be done. Having the willpower, as we all grow increasingly weary of mitigation, is key.
So is participation. So keep logging on to those online meetings and have your voices heard, even if it is from your living room.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.