Valley News – Editorial: Why aren’t Norwich governors meeting?

Valley News – Editorial: Why aren’t Norwich governors meeting?

3 minutes, 1 second Read

If 90% of success in life is just showing up, how much is due to just a virtual appearance? 50%? 40? The question arises in the context of the Norwich Selectboard, a majority of whose members have, without explanation, refrained from attending board meetings in person since the Town Meeting in early March.

As our colleague Patrick Adrian reported last weekend, only Selectboard Chair Pam Smith and board member Priscilla Vincent have regularly attended in-person meetings at Tracy Hall for more than three months. Vice Chair Mary Layton, board members Roger Arnold and Marcia Calloway, and Town Manager Brennan Duffy participated only virtually, which is allowed under Vermont law.

During the pandemic, remote meetings were widely adopted by municipalities, but most have now abandoned that system. Norwich is using a hybrid meeting format, allowing public participation both in person and via Zoom, as are the Hartford Selectboard and the Lebanon City Council.

This makes a lot of sense as a convenient way to involve members of the public in city affairs by providing another opportunity to have their voices heard. And for board members who travel or whose family responsibilities occasionally conflict with meetings, it’s an acceptable solution. But as a few Norwich residents pointed out, it’s not the way an official body regularly conducts business.

Smith and Vincent agree. “While I cannot enforce in-person attendance,” Smith wrote to fellow board members last month, “I can urge all Selectboard members and the City Manager to return to in-person attendance for all Selectboard meetings held in Tracy Hall.”

Vincent told Adrian that she fears the virtual option will become the new norm. “I don’t think we should be doing the city’s business this way,” she said. “It changes the way we interact with each other” and with the public.

That sounds good to us. As the pandemic subsides, many companies and other entities have found that while some tasks lend themselves well to virtual treatment, many collaborations are far more productive when the players come together in the same space. Not only is the potential for misunderstandings minimized, but the in-person dynamic quite often provides serendipity that wouldn’t be achieved if employees were locked into virtual silos. Informal conversations outside of formal meetings can also be a rich source of good ideas.

And for public bodies, it seems to us that attending official meetings in person shows proper respect for the voters who elected them. That includes Duffy, the city manager, who should certainly be present to fulfill his legitimate role in city government.

Given that Arnold, Calloway, Layton and Duffy did not return the reporter’s messages seeking comment, one can only speculate as to the reason for their choice to participate only in absentia.

Particularly in these contentious times, and in the embattled city of Norwich, some Selectboard members may not be keen to endure the inordinate heat of the public when attending meetings in person. But that comes with the territory of elected officials, especially those who serve at the local level; meeting rules exist to keep such interactions within acceptable limits.

An alternative explanation is that the missing board members simply cannot stand to be in the same room with their two colleagues – for personal, policy or political reasons. If such serious divisions exist, it would be difficult to improve them without actually coming together.

Resident Chris Katucki deserves the last word here. “There is real value in having board members meet with the city manager in the same physical space,” he wrote in an email. “It’s only twice a month. I don’t understand why they don’t do that and I hope someone explains.”

Similar Posts