Summit County has been holding government meetings via Zoom for seven months now.
During last week’s electronic Conversation With Council, a caller asked county officials to discuss the pros and cons of the new technology.
During the discussion, held on October 8th, county officials said the technology has improved transparency and allowed many more citizens to participate in the public sessions.
County Manager Tom Fisher said that at first, he was opposed to meeting remotely.
“And my biggest reason had to do with experience in a different county, where the electronic means became a grandstanding method, more than really conducting public business in an honest and open way. Clearly, that has not happened here. We almost catch ourselves being too open and honest—whatever that means. But it just means sometimes we’re a little too loose with our language. We make jokes about things, back and forth, that we, the Council and staff are certainly used to doing live, also—for what it’s worth.”
Fisher said one major downside, though, is that he has a lot more meetings on his schedule, because they’re easier to access.
“I usually have probably between 12 and 15 meetings a day. And so I joke when I get home to my wife that I’ve had a ‘thousand-subject day” because each of those meetings are not on the same subject. They are on different subjects. And so I have to click in and out of the lot, which means that a lot more is being done, and I’m not slowing down processes because I’m able to interact. But my day has now extended from what usually was an 8 o’clock to 5 o’clock day, now I’m 7 o’clock to 8-ish, 9-ish.”
Fisher said the county has a lot to deal with right now, including Covid, legal fights and the budget. But that schedule isn’t going to be sustainable.
Council Member Glenn Wright agreed that, for all the attractive features of Zoom, there are more meetings on his schedule too. He said he also likes to have more direct contact with people.
“I think face-to-face communication always works better than through a computer screen. When I’m having a serious conversation with somebody, I prefer to be in the same room with em. We just can’t do that right now.”
Council Member Chris Robinson said he hates to admit it, but he’s a fan of the technology. He said it’s going to boost productivity for both public and private entities.
“Maybe we’re seeing this a little bit in the national and global economy, where I think it’s a huge productivity tool. In the time that it normally would take me to a meeting, all of the meeting can be over. Today, I’m out in Tooele County on a job site all day. To attend this in person, I would have to drive an hour. I can do it in my car. I can pull over on the curb.”
Robinson added, though, that in a Remote meeting, they can’t see the body language of the audience and get a sense of their mood.
Tom Fisher said that eventually, local government might transition to some kind of hybrid, between live and remote meetings.