How can we possibly put into words our gratitude for our local government leaders at a time of unprecedented sacrifice and dedication? To ensure continued government delivery during the COVID-19 crisis, clerks in communities across the nation have reinvented how they collaborate with council and board members, disseminate information to the public, and facilitate meetings. They have risen to the challenge of digital optimization by implementing virtual live meeting software, ensuring that critical decision-making can still occur, and citizens’ voices are being heard, even as we all shelter in place.
This year, and every year, we are grateful to those municipal leaders who help move our communities forward and ensure government delivery capabilities remain relevant and accessible as the world around us changes. As we celebrate Municipal Clerks Week 2020, we reflect on the digital innovators who are keeping our meetings running in the face of a global pandemic that disrupted nearly every aspect of our daily lives.
The Unexpected Digital Optimization of Public Meetings
When federal, state, and local leaders put social distancing orders in place in mid-March 2020, it was for a single purpose: help flatten the curve of COVID-19. The need to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease surmounted all other personal responsibilities, including going to work in offices and obtaining non-essential services. While citizens adapted to trying to work and school their children from home, clerks faced a critical challenge: How to continue to meet the requirements of their applicable open meeting laws without being able to gather in public spaces?
Clerks, even those who for years have operated in a paper-based, in-person, manual meeting management fashion, bravely accepted the challenge. They became digital transformers and showcased their leadership by not only implementing new virtual live meeting technology but by leading virtual meetings and continuing to ensure the same level of professionalism and efficiency, even while running the meeting from their dining room table.
Emerging Opportunities from Crisis
While every one of us would likely wish the COVID-19 crisis away if it were a possibility, we must instead find opportunities in the chaos and disaster. For clerks who have adopted virtual meeting technology, the effort has not been without potential long-term benefits. Citizens logging in from home to watch live or recorded public meetings are realizing the convenience of remote civic participation. Those who were not inclined or able to attend meetings in public are realizing the benefits of engagement in local decision-making. Similar revelations are happening for clerks whom today are realizing the value of using technology to amplify the reach of their meeting agendas and citizen participation capabilities.
The Tipping Point of Digital Engagement
Not only do clerks realize today the benefits of technology as a means of engaging citizens in public meetings and open dialog, but they are faced with a question of how the COVID-19 disruption will permanently shift citizen and staff expectations for civic participation. For those citizens who are participating in their first virtual meeting and realizing that the experience is just as immersive and valuable as in-person participation, not to mention more convenient amid the hustle and bustle of daily responsibilities, they will be more likely to continue digital engagement and virtual meeting participation when operations move back inside municipal office buildings.
Extrapolated further, citizens who, for the first time are paying bills online, asking questions through an online form, requesting digital copies of meeting agendas, and submitting online requests for public records, are realizing the legitimacy and convenience of online citizen self-service and digital gov delivery.
Thanking Our Digital Leaders and Local Difference-Makers
To municipal clerks across the nation, in rural communities and metropolitan cities, who have kept dialog open, projects moving forward, and the foundation of democracy intact in the face of a global pandemic, we thank you. We recognize and support you now during Municipal Clerks Week, and always.