On Tuesday, March 24, the Town Council was united virtually in the studio of the Winthrop Community Access Television (WCAT) for the first ever remote meeting in the body’s history. Local governments around the Commonwealth have turned to virtual meetings in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Since WCAT closed to the public on March 16, no staff or volunteers have been permitted to enter, except for Executive Director Mike Cabral. The studio offered the space for the Council meeting, but could only accommodate four people due to safety precautions.
In attendance physically were Council President Phil Boncore, Council Vice President James Letterie and Town Manager Austin Faison. The men sat the requisite six feet apart at a makeshift conference table facing the camera. Council Clerk Denise Quist sat off-screen, moderating the members who attended remotely.
A second camera captured the screen where the other members joined the meeting via the online conferencing platform Zoom. Councilors Peter Christopher, Richard Ferrino and Robert DeMarco could be seen, while the remaining councilors were present through audio only.
Council President Boncore laid the ground rules for conducting the meeting remotely in order to ensure accurate meeting minutes. These included speaking clearly and muting when not speaking.
Council went through the agenda as it normally does—introducing items, getting feedback from councilors and then asking for public commentary.
Winthrop Town Council meetings are generally well attended and are known for their robust public input periods. While residents could not participate in person, they were encouraged to submit their concerns via phone or email.
“There are many people watching tonight,” said one caller. “I want to thank everyone in the town who has kept us safe. We appreciate it.”
As expected, the first-ever remote meeting was not without its hiccups. There were some difficulties with muting and unmuting Zoom participants, microphone feedback and making contact with callers. But everyone was very pleased with the overall execution and the process will no doubt improve with practice.
Council President Boncore said the other boards and committees will be meeting virtually “as soon as possible.” Committee clerks have been provided with Zoom accounts and instructions on how to organize and facilitate remote meetings.
“The group can chat and questions can come in on cell phone or email,” said the Council President. “We may not have the same level of video, but we will have minutes taking.”
Residents who wish to submit comments for the next Council meeting on April 7 can call or text 781-808-6014, or email [email protected]