March 26, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic and public health measures cause government officials and bodies to consider alternatives to creating a risk of spreading the virus by assembling people to conduct meetings of governmental bodies. Teleconferences and video conferences to conduct meetings is one alternative, yet the public needs adequate access under the requirements and of the Open Meeting Law.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of Open Government issued two Advisories addressing Open Meetings Law Requirements and COVID-19 protections. One issued March 16, 2020, reinforced prior advice on meeting by teleconference and video conference, and a second issued March 20, 2020, gave specific guidance on the Open Meetings Law and videoconferencing or Internet conferencing.As to noticing remote conferences it explains that meeting “notices should provide instructions for how the public may access the remote meeting, whether it is to be held via telephone conference call or video conference call. This includes providing the telephone number, video conferencelink, and any necessary passcodes or other login information.”
The Wisconsin Towns Association prepared a FAQ document which includes considerations for the Annual Town Meeting:
There is a UW-Madison Division or Extension Local Government Center Factsheet on Electronic Meetings that reviews the Open Meeting Law and Parliamentary Procedure issues involved with technology facilitated meetings.
UW-Madison Division of Extension Education Tech Team Leader, Tony Roman created athis list of options to find Internet meeting platforms.
- Zoom Basic – Free – Meetings for a limited number of participants for up to 40 minutes.
- Zoom Pro – $14.99 per month – Up to 100 participants per meeting. No time limit. (Zoom is available Free for educational use – https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/03/13/how-to-use-zoom-for-online-learning/
- Google Meet – Free – Restrictions vary based on whether they are using Google Suite or regular Gmail as a host account. https://cloud.google.com/blog/products/g-suite/helping-businesses-and-schools-stay-connected-in-response-to-coronavirus
- Cisco WebEx – Free during the Pandemic – https://help.webex.com/en-us/n80v1rcb/Cisco-Webex-Available-Free-in-These-Countries-COVID-19-Response
- Microsoft Teams – Microsoft has tools within their MS Teams platform, both for paid and free users available as part of their response to the pandemic – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2020/03/05/our-commitment-to-customers-during-covid-19/
UW-Madison Division of Extension cannot vouch for the effectiveness or quality of these service. We are also are aware that many areas of Wisconsin are not served or are underserved by Internet. We are looking into options for telephone conferencing.