Sunday, September 27, 2020 | ePaper

Virus concerns lead to 'public' meetings without the public

  • Print


AP, Jefferson City :
First, Oklahoma lawmakers excluded the public from the Capitol because of coronavirus concerns.
Then with the public gone, lawmakers made an emergency change to the state's open-meetings law to let all governmental entities meet via video or teleconference, so long as people can watch or listen remotely.
Across the U.S., numerous governors, lawmakers, mayors and county officials have made similar decisions to keep the public away from public meetings - all for the sake of public health. Ironically, the sudden policy shift has played out during the annual observation of "Sunshine Week," a seven-day period intended to highlight the importance of open-government policies.
"Public participation in our democracy is really fundamental to the health of our democracy," said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a California-based nonprofit that promotes government transparency.
"I think government agencies need to be very careful not to unduly restrict the public's ability to see what government is doing and, maybe more importantly, to participate in what the government's doing," he said.
On Friday, 132 state and national groups backing open-government policies released a joint statement urging officials at all levels of government to "not retrench" from their duties for public involvement because of the coronavirus.
"Government bodies should not opportunistically take advantage of the public's inability to attend large gatherings to make critical decisions affecting the public's interest if those decisions can reasonably be postponed," the statement said.
All U.S. states require open government meetings. Some mandate that a majority of government officials be physically present to meet. Others already allow officials to meet by video or phone, with accommodations for the public to watch or listen from a designated room.
Those mandates for in-person access have been suspended or ignored as an increasing number of governments have instructed people to stay home and avoid public gatherings to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

More News For this Category

Taiwan's armed forces strain in undeclared war of attrition with China

Taiwan's armed forces strain in undeclared war of attrition with China

Reuters, Kaohsiung  :Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited a low-key but critical maintenance base for fighter jet engines on Saturday, offering encouragement as the Chinese-claimed island's armed forces strain in the

'Masks up, emissions down' as climate demos restart

'Masks up, emissions down' as climate demos restart

AFP :Thousands of young people across Europe joined a global day of climate protests on Friday, many wearing masks and keeping their distance against the coronavirus.The rallies marked the resumption

Attackers kill 15 people in western Ethiopia

Al Jazeera News :Armed attackers have killed at least 15 people in western Ethiopia, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).Four of the victims in Friday's pre-dawn assault in

South Korea's domestic coronavirus cases fall to lowest in 44 days

South Korea's domestic coronavirus cases fall to lowest in 44 days

Reuters, Seoul :South Korea on Saturday reported 49 new domestic coronavirus cases, the smallest number of locally transmitted cases in 44 days in a sign that tighter social distancing rules

Lebanon PM-designate steps down

Lebanon PM-designate steps down

Al Jazeera News :Lebanon's prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib has announced his resignation after his efforts to line up a non-partisan cabinet ran into trouble, particularly over who would run the

Poland's ruling nationalists cement new coalition deal

Poland's ruling nationalists cement new coalition deal

Reuters, Warsaw :Poland's ruling nationalists signed a new coalition agreement on Saturday, ending weeks of in-fighting in the three-party alliance over how it will govern over the next three years.The

Attackers kill 15 people in western Ethiopia

Al Jazeera News :Armed attackers have killed at least 15 people in western Ethiopia, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).Four of the victims in Friday's pre-dawn assault

South Korea's domestic coronavirus cases fall to  lowest in 44 days

South Korea's domestic coronavirus cases fall to lowest in 44 days

Reuters, Seoul :South Korea on Saturday reported 49 new domestic coronavirus cases, the smallest number of locally transmitted cases in 44 days in a sign that tighter social distancing

Poland's ruling nationalists cement new coalition deal

Poland's ruling nationalists cement new coalition deal

Reuters, Warsaw :Poland's ruling nationalists signed a new coalition agreement on Saturday, ending weeks of in-fighting in the three-party alliance over how it will govern over the next three

Lebanon PM-designate steps down

Lebanon PM-designate steps down

Al Jazeera News :Lebanon's prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib has announced his resignation after his efforts to line up a non-partisan cabinet ran into trouble, particularly over who would run