Brattleboro Selectboard meetings have become very long. Too long, really.
It isn’t the number of items on the agenda. Even a short agenda can lead to a very long meeting.
Holding the meetings online might be part of the problem.
First, it adds time to each meeting to explain how to participate. It adds time to invite people to speak and wait for them to work out technical issues. Almost every virtual meeting has delays due to the meeting being virtual. Sometimes they are short delays, but they add up.
Second, the urgency of time constraints on public participation isn’t as strong when participants are at home, relatively comfortable, able to chat with one another throughout, have snacks, and can multitask to take care of other business while the meeting goes on.
Third, more people seem to be participating. This is a good thing. It appears that virtual meetings have increased the ability of people to participate, so more points of view are offered. And citizen groups have been very good about staying on point, having representative speak for the whole, and not giving up.
Finally, the board seems a bit sluggish online. The meetings are at the end of a long day. The board often comes into the public meeting after already meeting online for executive session.
Staring at screens is tiresome, and eyes glaze over. This board takes breaks, which is much appreciated, but even so after two hours people are worn out. After three hours discussions are no longer crisp, effective and to the point.
A few of the current board’s meetings have approached six hours, plus their earlier executive session.
These are unusual times, and this board has had some major discussions about really important, big issues such as community safety and gentrification. These conversations do take a long time.
Nonetheless, four to six hour meetings are like the old Gary Shandling joke about sex: “Was it good for you?” “That was good for nobody.” The ASL signers get tired, but they can trade off. It’s killing me to type for so long continuously. Even those who just have to sit there and speak seem exhausted.
More meetings doesn’t seem to be the solution. It just becomes more long meetings.
Trying a consent agenda to speed things up was a good step, though more time was spent explaining the consent agenda at the most recent meeting than it took to approve it.
What seems to be missing most is an incentive to be done by a specific time.
It might be worth some experimentation. Perhaps if the meetings started at 3pm, the board and the public would feel more inclined to wrap things up and go to dinner.