One hallmark for the pandemic scare in Tennessee has been the heavy governmental use of electronic meetings, facilitated by Gov. Bill Lee signing executive orders allowing them.
The meetings often were on Zoom or a similar format, and as the state began reopening, sometimes meetings would have participants both in person and participating electronically.
That all ends after Tuesday, June 30.
The Tennessean reported that Gov. Bill Lee will allow electronic meetings to end after June 30. The newspaper cited a memo that Comptroller Justin Wilson sent to officials making the announcement.
Executive Order 34, which allowed the electronic meetings, is here. It went into effect on March 20 and in May was extended to June 30.
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) conducted an informal survey on the use of electronic meetings.
The survey, available on the TCOG website, was open to anyone who wanted to share their experience. A majority of the 71 responses were from interested citizens and journalists, although some were from government officials who participated in the meetings.
Each person was asked to answer a series of questions about a single meeting and report how the meeting was held, its availability to the public, if public comment was allowed and if a recording was available afterward.
Each respondent was also asked to rate audibility of the meeting and access to meeting materials such as agendas and board packets, and if they thought members of governing bodies should be allowed to continue to meet electronically when the pandemic threat lessened.
When asked whether governing bodies should be allowed to continue to meet electronically when the COVID-19 pandemic threat lessened, most, or 39, said no. But 19 said “maybe” and 13 said “yes.”
Some people thought the issue depended on the virus’ status, while others thought vulnerable people should be allowed to meet electronically. Others, however, worried about lack of public oversight or technical issues.
Indeed, TCOG joined in an open meetings lawsuit with media companies against the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. On April 1, the board took an email vote in secret to reduce by $44,100 the fines owed by state Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis), TCOG said.