More and more as time progresses, state legislators are looking toward allowing boards to stop meeting in person.
The House Public Service Subcommittee passed a bill recently that would permit hundreds of local utility boards that govern rates for electric, water, gas and other public services to stop meeting in person if they so choose to do so.
The bill, HB 509, has potential to open the door for local governing bodies to start conducting meetings all electronically and casting votes on key issues by phone outside the public eye, says Deborah Fisher, executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
It has no limits on when or why a member of a governing body could patch into a meeting by phone. And when the entire body decides they need to meet by phone remotely, the bill as amended has no requirements allowing the public to attend by phone remotely.
For example, one scenario permitted under the proposed legislation by state Rep. Clark Boyd allows a utility board to hold a telephone conference call as long as they provide real-time access to that phone call to the public.
However, real-time access does not require the utility board to provide a phone number for members of the public to call. It could possible mean providing a speakerphone at a government location where the public would have to go to listen, according to Fisher.
In my opinion, government entities should operate in the open so the public has access or at least they should provide call in or zoom access to such meetings.
The public has a right to know.