WELLFLEET — The number of people viewing and participating in virtual select board meetings here in recent weeks is breaking the board’s attendance records.
Since the Wellfleet Select Board began hosting meetings by videoconference on Zoom on March 24, they have attracted as many as 100 participants eager to watch policymakers deliberate on how the town will respond to the ever-changing pandemic landscape.
Virtual meetings have upped participation in all the Outer Cape towns, with the Provincetown Select Board getting 50 to 75 viewers on its Teams software, plus more who are not countable viewing the meetings on PTV, the local public access station, said Elizabeth Paine, the select board secretary.
Wellfleet is the only Outer Cape town to use Zoom as its primary access for viewers, thus making attendance easy to track. The numbers have been encouraging.
Administrative Assistant Courtney Butler, who has run the meetings in Wellfleet, said the new level of viewership has been surprising and not trouble-free. Butler had to turn people away from the May 12 meeting, when the select board voted to require beach stickers a month earlier than normal and make them available only for town residents and property owners.
Butler said Tuesday she was waiting for a $3,000 purchase order from town hall to upgrade Wellfleet’s Zoom license, so more than 100 people could participate.
She hoped to get it by the end of the month. Until then, she encourages people to stream the meetings on YouTube from the Wellfleet town media channel, and participate by sending emails to [email protected].
Remote access, coupled with the high-impact agenda items, has injected a shot of life into the select board meetings, said board member Kathleen Bacon.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Bacon said. “The more people that we can get involved in meetings, the better we can be.”
About 50 people is the most she can remember attending an in-person meeting.
“What occurs to me is that it’s a way of getting younger people, families, involved,” said Moe Barocas, who attends many town government meetings. He thinks videoconferencing should continue, even after the virus is tamed.
The unprecedented demand has board members and residents alike hoping that some town board members will have a change of heart about videotaping meetings.
Wellfleet is one of the only towns on the Cape where video recording of regulatory boards is optional, at the discretion of the individual boards. Wellfleet’s is the only planning board on the Cape whose meetings are not filmed, for example. The conservation commission and the board of health also aren’t videotaped.
“So many residents do not drive at night, so they do not go to these meetings,” Bacon said. “The only way they can see them is having them taped.”
Zoom does take some getting used to. The board asked participants not to interrupt, and to use the raised-hand button on Zoom rather than literally raising their hands.
“There has been a bit of a decorum issue,” Butler said. “People need to be recognized by the chair.”