Barrington Town Councilors say Zoom still best option for meetings

Resident says ‘dynamics of Zoom meetings are insidious’ and meetings need to be in-person

By Josh Bickford
Posted 2/25/21

Weeks ago, Barrington resident Mary Teixeira posed a challenge to members of the town council.

In a letter to the editor, she asked that the town’s elected leaders come out of isolation and …

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Barrington Town Councilors say Zoom still best option for meetings

Resident says ‘dynamics of Zoom meetings are insidious’ and meetings need to be in-person

Posted

Weeks ago, Barrington resident Mary Teixeira posed a challenge to members of the town council.

In a letter to the editor, she asked that the town’s elected leaders come out of isolation and begin holding meetings in-person again. The town council has not held in-person meetings for many months, due to the pandemic.

“Look people in the eye when you make these decisions,” she wrote.

Ms. Teixeira said the move to in-person meetings could be easily and safely completed, adding that she has been teaching school in-person since last August and attending daily Mass at St. Luke’s Church every morning at 7 a.m.

Ms. Teixeira said she is 66 years old and has not yet received the Covid-19 vaccine. She said it was not “rocket science” creating a safe environment to host in-person council meetings.

“My district has taken smart precautions like most have,” she said. “Kids and staff are masked. I wear a shield as well when I walk closer to students to assist them. Floor markers for students to stay 6 feet apart. Frequent hand washing. Every room has a Medify air scrubber which by itself keeps the air recycled. I still keep 2 windows open as an extra precaution although not necessary. A window open 6 inches exchanges the air 5 times in an hour which is the standard CDC advises if your building doesn’t have an HVAC system. Most old buildings don’t. Town Hall would need to purchase an air scrubber based on the meeting room size. A room with windows gives added protection.”

Ms. Teixeira said she is concerned about the behavior that is often exhibited in virtual settings.

“The dynamics of Zoom meetings are insidious,” she said. “Students who are perfectly compliant in person, become oppositional and defiant whenever conditions force us into full distance learning. The fact they are not face to face with teachers emboldens them to act much differently.”

Barrington Town Council member Jacob Brier said he does not intend on going to in-person meetings until he is vaccinated. Mr. Brier, who is 40 years old, said that while he goes grocery shopping and runs errands, he does not do anything else with other people indoors. He said he does not attend synagogue in-person.

“Different people do different things,” he said.

Mr. Brier said the town council should rely upon the advice of the health department and health professionals when it comes to re-opening. He said there was no reason why Barrington should lead the charge to doing things in-person again.

Other members of the town council also offered their opinions on the topic.

“With my glitchy ISP (internet service provider), nobody wants to return to in-person meetings more than I do,” Carl Kustell wrote. “I have no influence on when that happens, but I think everyone should have the opportunity to be vaccinated first. According to RIDOH's website, that will take at least a few more months. In the meantime, we need to make accommodations to allow people to make their own choices with regard to their personal health. Right now, Zoom is the best option.”

Councilor Annelise Conway said that as representatives for the town, the council should model appropriate behavior during the pandemic, and that gathering a large group of people indoors does not do that. She said virtual meetings also allow people to join meetings who might otherwise be unable to do so.

“Specifically thinking of parents with young children, caretakers for the elderly, single parents, or those who work late hours,” Ms. Conway wrote. “While there was an issue with the number of people who were initially able to join for our last meeting, in the past, that has not been the case. If anything, the Zoom format has brought a larger and more diverse group together than had we met in person.

“I don’t think it would be responsible to meet in person until the emergency order is lifted. When that happens? It sounds like summer at the earliest but a lot depends on vaccination rollouts and behavior.”

Wrote Council President Michael Carroll: “I believe the council will follow the guidance of the state and federal health authorities to determine when in-person meetings will occur. I’m sure none of us want to be responsible for infecting others with COVID-19.”

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha said there had been some discussion about holding a hybrid meeting, where some people could be in-person and others could join in virtually. He added that he does not see a change to in-person meetings coming in the near-future.

Ms. Teixeira said the online meetings have emboldened the councilors.

“They have gained a certain power being behind that screen that they don’t want to give up,” she said. “They need to be forced back into the open. They can live stream so residents uncomfortable attending in person can still participate in that manner.”

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