Northampton council eyes return to in-person meetings, with hybrid option


Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2023 4:57 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After nearly three years of remote meetings over Zoom, the City Council may soon reinstate in-person meetings with a hybrid option for people to continue to attend virtually.

The move would bring Northampton in line with several other communities that have offered hybrid government meetings for some time, including in Amherst, South Hadley and Easthampton.

With an emergency order allowing municipalities to meet virtually set to expire in April, established by the former Baker administration during the pandemic, Northampton City Council President Jim Nash says the council is looking at switching to hybrid meetings beginning in March. He said the council needs to begin preparing for hybrid meetings should the emergency order not be extended.

“The idea is, let’s do the homework in March, so we’re prepared and we hit the ground running should we need to go to a hybrid format,” he said at the council’s Feb. 2 meeting.

The School Committee already meets in a hybrid format.

In an interview, Nash said he and the Council Vice President Karen Foster attended a recent Easthampton City Council meeting to observe the hybrid process. He said no final decision has been made on whether hybrid meetings will occur for Northampton in March, but that he was “strongly leaning” into doing so.

Nash said he would introduce a hybrid meeting plan during the next council meeting on Feb. 16 for the council could vote on. The plan would be intended for the council and its various subcommittees.

“It seems like it works pretty well for them,” Nash said of the Easthampton council. “Hybrid is the most accommodating for public participation, and that is going to determine which way the council is going to go on this.”

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The hybrid model also requires a quorum of councilors to be present in person in case of an internet or power outage, which would allow meetings either to continue or adjourn and be picked up later.

City officials say that the number of people participating in meetings has gone up since remote meetings began, mainly because residents don’t have to leave their homes. Hybrid meetings will help ensure that the public still has that option.

The council’s Committee on City Services discussed the issue of expanding public participation on Monday, with the idea floated to have certain areas across the city, such as Forbes Library, serve as hubs where residents could gather, listen and participate in meetings via a Zoom transmission.

“We want to keep remote public participation, because we’ve seen how much it’s expanded,” said Foster, who chairs the city services committee. “But then to think about the people that don’t know how to open the agenda and click the link or don’t have the access. It’s incumbent on us as a council, and the select committee is discussing this as well, to make sure we reduce as many barriers as we can.”

Homar Gomez, the president of the Easthampton City Council, said the city has found success with the hybrid model, with greater public participation.

“I remember when I first started on the council five years ago, we would have maybe one person, sometimes no one would be there from the public,” Gomez said. “Since we’ve had the hybrid meetings, there’s always public participants.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at