Public engagement is important
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone into their homes, most local government meetings were paused for a few weeks. It didn’t take long for officials to set up virtual meetings via Zoom and other livestreaming platforms. Most municipalities and county governments still livestream meetings, which increases public participation and awareness.
In Lewes, comments are solicited from those in the audience and those watching at home. It’s a great way for engaged residents to voice their opinions on important issues, no matter if they’re in Lewes or on the other side of the world.
Late last month, the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission decided to eliminate public comments made by phone. Since before the pandemic, all county meetings have been broadcast live on the county’s website. Sussex County does not use Zoom or any other platform. With in-person attendance now required to speak at P&Z meetings, a member of the public has an extra hurdle to clear to voice his or her opinion. This is a step in the wrong direction.
Commissioners cited technical difficulties as a reason for the move. Sure, it may be frustrating to sit at the dais and struggle to understand a caller, but think about how frustrating it must be for a resident and taxpayer to be silenced and not be able to share their viewpoint on a topic incredibly important to them, especially if they’re unable to attend in person.
As a letter writer recently said, there are many reasons why people do not attend meetings in person. In many cases, it’s not laziness. Some people simply cannot make the trip to Georgetown, especially now that P&Z meetings begin at 3 p.m.
So in this technological age where everything is a few clicks of a mouse or taps of the phone screen away, we encourage Sussex County Planning & Zoning commissioners to reconsider their decision to prohibit those listening on their phone to offer comments. Transparency is paramount in local government. Let everyone have a chance to speak.