Full Steam Ahead: Town Clerk Moving Forward With Remote Town Meeting

Photo: Virtual Town Meeting

are running full steam ahead to run a remote-access annual Town Meeting on June 16 with only nine articles that must be taken up. 

In her last communication to Town Meeting Members, Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said Belmont and five other towns had put forth a request for Special Legislation to allow representative Town Meeting towns to hold virtual meetings. The legislation has passed the state Senate and has been with the House for more than a week.

“We all sincerely hope for an answer by early next week,” said Cushman.

The current plan, according to Cushman, which is still under development include:

  • We will use two applications at the same time – one for viewing or asking questions and the other exclusively for voting. We will use Zoom as our Video Conference Platform for the viewing and asking questions.We will use our customary TurningPoint electronic voting system for voting, but instead of distributing the “clickers” to everyone, we will be voting using our technology devices, desktop computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones.
  • During the week ahead, each Town Meeting Member will receive an email invitation to create a password for the TurningPoint system that will allow you to vote securely during Town Meeting.
  • Over the next few weeks, we will divide the Town Meeting into experience groups to run classes so everyone is ready for June 16. We will also be running a practice Town Meeting and/or League of Women Voters Warrant Briefing night so we’re all on board before the 16th. We ask you to make participating in these practice and training sessions a priority, making every effort to “attend.” We understand that there are experts among us but we also recognize that there are members for whom technology is a real challenge, their talents lie elsewhere.
  • Training materials and links to training videos will be distributed next week – we urge you to take the class, do the practice, run a fun Zoom session with your family or friends, practice opening two applications at the same time, minimizing applications.  If you don’t know what any of that is, not to worry.
  • Town Meeting materials are being developed and will be distributed approximately three weeks before Town Meeting.  The materials will include video presentations by the Chairs of our key committees, boards and commissions to assist Town Meeting Members to make informed choices. We’ll also be asking Town Meeting Members to send their questions in far in advance of the Town Meeting so that these folks can respond and share the information with all Members.  We do not anticipate reports will be given at Town Meeting, instead we ask Members to watch the videos.
  • The members of the public will be encouraged to watch, either by livestreaming or through our partner Belmont Media.
  • The Moderator has made the decision that the deadline for any amendments will be one week before Town Meeting, instead of the customary three days, to give plenty of time for evaluation and conversation.
  • We are committed that every Town Meeting Member will be able to fully participate and have their vote counted properly, whatever it takes.
  • If you are a person who is experienced and interested in helping to teach other Town Meeting Members about using Zoom or TurningPoint, please send me an email reply. It’s not yet clear whether we will need your assistance but it’s always good to know before the need arises.

Finally, over the last couple of weeks, Town Meeting Members have completed the online survey of technology types and comfort using technology as well as preferred learning styles. And 289 the 292 Town Meeting Members responded!

Here are the very general numbers:

Technology Town Meeting Members Own or Have Access to:

  • 276 have a smartphone
  • 241 have a laptop computer  (many also have other technology)
  • 33  have exclusively a desktop computer
  • 10  have exclusively a tablet

Experience / Comfort with Technology and Zoom Video Conferencing

  • 136 “Zoomers”  ( regularly participate in Zoom and VERY comfortable with technology)
  • 42 “Experts”( participating frequently in Zoom and very comfortable with technology) 
  • 60 “Intermediates” (participate infrequently in Zoom and comfortable with technology)
  • 24 “Beginners” (have watched Zoom but not participated, 13 are comfortable with technology, 11 are not)
  • 27 “Novices”  (have never watched Zoom, but all are comfortable with technology)
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