Editor’s Note: The letter was sent to the 11-member City Council and the 3-member Framingham Board of Health on May 18. The letter was CC’d to the Mayor, COO, CFO, Departments of Public Health, Technology Services, and Facilities, The Government Channel, Citizen Participation Officer, City Clerk, and City Solicitor. It was also submitted to the SOURCE for publication.
FRAMINGHAM – As you all are aware, on March 12, 2020, Governor Baker issued an Executive Order Suspending Certain Provisions of the Open Meeting Law, to enable public bodies to carry out their responsibilities while adhering to public health recommendations regarding physical distancing. On May 17, 2021 Governor Baker announced a planned end to the Commonwealth’s State of Emergency on June 15, 2021.
While new rules on public meetings are forthcoming, we expect hybrid meeting options to be an ongoing aspect of conducting public meetings throughout post-pandemic municipal government.
As the Chairs of public bodies whose pre-COVID-19 meetings were often or always televised live, we write today to encourage the City Council and Board of Health to set clear, safe, accessible and consistent public health and transparency measures for all public bodies in the City of Framingham as the Commonwealth begins implementing a full reopening plan.
We ask that together the City Council and Board of Health consider proumulating new post emergency transition regulations that create clear, consistent rules and guidelines for all multiple member bodies conducting meetings, and for members of the public who desire to participate in such meetings.
Upon the lifting of Governor Baker’s Emergency Declaration, we recommend that a incremental, phased transition plan for all multiple member bodies be implemented to provide flexibility as well as consistency so the public has a clear understanding of meeting access rules, and continues to have ease of access for live meeting viewing and live public comment, whether they are physically in person, or not.
We recommend a new city ordinance or order to be rapidly drafted to cover the following topics:
- Full alignment with provisions of the Open Meeting Law, such as ensuring public access to the deliberations of the public body through “adequate, alternative means” that enables the public to clearly follow the proceedings of the public body in real time.
- The ability for a remote member of the public to participate in specified public comment periods when recognized by the Chair.
- Consistency with the Open Meeting Law’s remote participation policy, allowing members of public bodies to participate in meetings remotely.
- Meeting accessibility for public officials and members of the public.
- Public Health considerations:
- Room capacity guidance for specific rooms in the Memorial Building and other rooms where public meetings may be held.
- Air filtration and sanitizing procedures
- Mask policies for public body members, and the public
- Impact of an individual’s vaccination status
- Consideration on if an incremental approach such as a three to four-phased transition plan, similar to how the Governor has set up the Commonwealth’s reopening plan is necessary. For example:
- Phase 1: Board members return back and conduct business in-person but having the public participate remotely
- Phase 2: Public allowed in for public comment in small groups at a time
- Phase 3: Full Capacity
- Any adjustments, if necessary, to these rules for public body meetings not broadcast live by The Government Channel.
While each public body shall continue to have its respective autonomy on their own operating rules, public health rules require complete consistency for our public bodies in order to best serve our community.
This letter is sent with each Chair’s individual views, and is not sent on behalf of the respective public body.
We are ready and willing to collaborate with you on language and continue to collaborate as you tackle this important matter.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this important and timely matter.
Adam Freudberg, Chair, School Committee
Kristina Johnson. Chair, Planning Board
Stephen Meltzer, Chair, Zoning Board of Appeals
David Miles, Co-Chair, Fuller School Building Committee
Richard Finlay, Chair, Disability Commission
Adam Barnosky, Chair, Board of Licensing Commissioners