With Chester City Hall being closed to the public, city officials conducted their city council meeting to an empty room but broadcasted it on FacebookLive. My only issue had to do with how difficult it was to hear what was being said, and I offered a suggestion how to fix that.
I was encouraged to see so many people watched the meeting according to the number of views the Facebook page displayed. (However, I think they register a view after only 3-seconds of viewing).
One of my subscribers sent me information the state of Pennsylvania put out concerning public meetings during the coronavirus crisis. I copy & pasted it below for you to read. You decide if Chester City is following the advice from the state or not.
Probably, the real question is whether a FacebookLive city council meeting…
- reasonably allows for two-way communication – I say yes
- clearly explained to the public in advance of and during the meeting – I say yes
- is available (preferably online) so that a full and complete record of the meeting is available to the public. – I say sort of
I qualify all my ‘Yes’ answers when I consider how many people are connected to Facebook in the city of Chester. As I always say, Facebook in Chester casts a wide net, but there are some big holes in that net.
The only recommendation I’d suggest would be to put the recording of the city council meeting on Chestercity.com.
For those people not following the Chester City Facebook page or aren’t on social media at all, they’ll just have to hope to read about what happens at city council in the paper. Considering the number of senior citizens in Chester, that amounts to a lot of people.
The Sunshine Act and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Last updated March 18 at 11:34 a.m.
The Sunshine Act is clear that public meetings should be held at public buildings with open public participation whenever possible. If an official emergency declaration prevents that from happening, a meeting via teleconference, webinar, or other electronic method that allows for two-way communication is permissible in most circumstances. (Some agencies may be governed by laws which add requirements beyond those included in the Sunshine Act.)
However, any agency taking that step must provide a reasonably accessible method for the public to participate and comment pursuant to Section 710.1 of the Sunshine Act. That method should be clearly explained to the public in advance of and during the meeting.
Further, the Office of Open Records strongly recommends that any agency holding such a meeting record the meeting and proactively make the recording available (preferably online) so that a full and complete record of the meeting is available to the public.
35 Pa.C.S. § 7501(d) allows agencies under a “declaration of disaster emergency” (here’s the March 6 disaster emergency declaration signed by Governor Wolf and information about the declaration) to suspend the need to comply with certain “formal requirements.” In context, any such suspensions must be related to the emergency.
Agencies should bear in mind that transparency builds trust, especially in times of crisis.
If and when events warrant any update to this advice, it will be posted here. Agencies are also welcome to contact the OOR with any questions (using the OOR contact form is the best way to reach us at this time, as we are all working remotely).