The present guidance by the Governor and County Health Agency is being used to effectively deny those of us with disabilities and at risk from Covid-19 the ability and right to participate in local/special district government meetings.
The County allows for in-person, in-house meetings to conduct government business. This guidance is allowing local/district governments to switch from virtual Zoom meetings to full in-person, in-house meetings. Presently, there is no requirement for any teleconferencing or hybrid meeting access to conduct local government meetings.
This month, San Simeon CSD, without prior public notice or Board approval issued an agenda for an in-house, in-person only Budget Committee Meeting. All San Simeon CSD meetings to date have been Zoom meetings. In fact, the SSCSD Board meeting scheduled one day before this meeting was a Zoom meeting.
Zoom meetings have been used by the District and worked well for months. Participation has increased. The Board, staff, and community are getting very adept at using this medium. And the District has a Zoom subscription. There will not be recordings of committee meetings for viewing and only brief minutes will follow some months later.
The change to only in-house, in-person meetings adversely impacts safety and the level of community participation.
Requests to the Chairperson and Board for a hybrid meeting or alternative access were firmly denied. They quoted the County Health Agency’s approval of this in-person, in-house meeting as the legal basis for making the change and said the County does not require ANY form of remote access or participation.
For those of us with disabilities and/or at high risk of Covid-19, we have been denied what we believe is a basic right to participate in local government. These meetings are effectively closed to us and violate the spirit and intent of the Brown Act and potentially more. It is noted that the Brown Act as presently written does not require any form of fully remote access or hybrid meetings. This still does not make it right.
The County has emergency authority and can mandate hybrid meetings for community service /special district meetings.
Maybe, someday our State legislators will take up this matter in the form of a Brown Act amendment requiring hybrid meetings. However, for now we need the County under its emergency authority to act and protect our rights to participate in local government.
I will be bringing this matter up at the North Coast Advisory Council meeting on October 21, 2020.
Your support and timely action is requested to prevent further in-house, in-person only local/special district meetings by bringing this matter to the attention of the County Health Agency and/or the Board of Supervisors.