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Boston councilors want to keep remote access for city hearings even after City Hall returns to in-person meetings

City Councilors Lydia Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End) and Liz Breadon (Allston/Brighton) say that letting people testify before city boards remotely has worked so well they want to keep it going even after we return to some pre-pandemic normalcy.

On Wednesday, they will ask the council as a whole to let them formally explore the possibility of retaining remote-access abilities for all City Hall hearings and meetings, in part because most are held during the day and many people who might have something to say can't easily get to City Hall to queue up at a microphone. In their formal request for a hearing on the matter, they write:

Barriers to democratic engagement are substantially lower when residents can participate in open meetings via remote means, making government more effective and accessible to all people and communities

Their proposal would also require all city boards and councils to record their meetings for posterity. In the before times, the city council, the zoning board and the school committee videoed their meetings and posted the recordings on YouTube. Since the move to all remote meetings, virtually all public meetings have been recorded and posted on YouTube.

The council's Wednesday meeting begins at noon.

PDF icon Complete hearing request123.15 KB

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I've been able to go to city council meetings for the first time because they are virtual. It's be great and I am really glad they are looking at keeping virtual options for meetings. I hope all city meetings will have those options.

Voting closed 26

This would be amazing. When I worked in Dorchester I always found it kind of amazing that these hearings took place in one central location at 10am. Completely inconvenient for anyone except lawyers and full time community advocates. I went a few times to advocate for businesses and it took hours out of my day abd I never encountered anyone from the public for any of the hearings they were having.

This would allow people a lot more access.

Voting closed 66

One bonus with streaming meetings is that if the streaming service does automatic captioning, then you can get by without hiring an ASL interpreter for every meeting.

Voting closed 24

The already public funded Stenographic Record is more accurate than captioning, more complete than Minutes, more complete than captions.

For hard of hearing folks, for folks with auditory processing difficulty, for folks who can search and read through proceedings opening the Stenographic Record opens Public Meetings of Boston City Council to all.

During the years of Busing the Stenographic Record of Public Meetings of Boston City Council was available and is still available at Boston Public Library Special Collections.

Boston City Archives a Division of the Boston City Clerks Offices refuses to acquire the current Stenographic Record of Public Meetings of Boston City Council confusing it with less complete, less accurate transcripts of captions. A professional archivist should understand the difference in accuracy and completeness.

Contrary to Massachusetts Municipal Records Management Guidelines the Stenographic Record is removed from the City and contrary to the City Contract for Stenographic Services.

As machine code the Stenographic Record File is available by email but not decoded. The other file, a dictionary file needed to decode isn't available.

The machine code can be decoded a bit using techniques developed for the Enigma Machine and techniques of cryptanalyst Elizebeth Smith Friedman.

Language and Communications Access practices have failed opening the already public funded Stenographic Record of Public Meetings of Boston City Council for hard of hearing folks
boston. gov/departments/language-and-communications-access

More up to date technology/software is needed for Boston City Council and more knowledgeable City Council Central Staff. Current Central Staff of Boston City Council mistakenly claim understandable Steno doesn't exist, yet current Minutes are outlined/compiled using current Steno

For upcoming Redistricting better mapping of City Council Districts is also needed that clearly indicates Names of Bordering Streets between adjacent neighboring Districts for folks nearby Bordering Streets. Current mapping is unclear, either no Names of Bordering Streets between adjacent Districts or confusing with too many Streets' Names. Someday better Staff and Councilors with more knowledge of Software will open up a more transparent Boston City Council.

And Roll Call Votes in Boston City Council can be made more easily available, sortable by topic, sortable by Councilor.

Voting closed 33

I think we may have just achieved a blackout on every possible type of internet bingo card. The Don Saklad signal immediately dispatched him to talk about stenographic outputs and he linked to r/UNBGBBIIVCHIDCTIICBG of all places. Amazing.

Voting closed 33

Automated captioning is useful for many people as a supplement to also hearing the speakers, and is great to include if better captioning is not available, but it is not sufficient as an accommodation for Deaf people. First, even the best automated captioning is only up to about 80% accurate, and more typically fall in the 60-70% accuracy range. It also generally cannot account for punctuation (eg. ? or !), and may miss other grammatical features, struggle to distinguish between speakers when several people are talking, etc.

Errors and missing words can cause significant confusion if one is relying on the automated captioning alone. Imagine the difference between the sentences "We can allow that" and "We can't allow that" and "We can allow that?". Very easy for automated captioning to get wrong, very significant difference in meanings. To meet ADA standards, captioning by a professional human CART provider must be at least 95% accurate, for comparison.

Second, ASL is not "English but on hands/bodies". It is a whole separate language with its own grammar, structure, and vocabulary. It is many Deaf peoples' first and primary language. Not all Deaf people read and understand written English well. Captioning, especially automated captioning with its errors, is NOT a substitute for ASL interpretation of public meetings.

Voting closed 19

We should leverage the advances in technological infrastructure. It’s time to rethink requiring people to travel to City Hall when things can be done remotely. For example, parking permits, parking ticket hearings etc should all be done virtually.

Voting closed 17

Boston already does some of this via the City Hall To Go van. I forget what the exact services are but it's quite efficient and rolls all over the city.

Voting closed 16

People have been told for years it's entirely too difficult and costly to allow Zoom access to things so people with disabilities (and people with childcare responsibilities, busy work schedules, no transportation, etc., as well as people like advocates and caseworkers who regularly drive across the state to say one sentence at a meeting) can attend. People have said that there was no way things bound by legal/healthcare/education systems could possibly be considered valid if they were done via video.

This year folks were forced to realize we can at the very least prop up an iPad on the table, and can order a web cam and a good mic for a couple hundred bucks. And suddenly it's fine to conduct healthcare, IEP meetings, hearings, etc. over video. Or even over audio-only phone in many instances.

We definitely need to keep these things as options in the future. The sky didn't fall when we started doing things people were asking for for years.

Voting closed 27

Currently this only works because of the Governor's emergency order. So city council should be working on how to make virtual or partially virtual meetings compliant with open meeting law.

Voting closed 14

Testifying in person means you usually had to take an entire day off, if you work 9 to 5, since you can't be sure in advance when you will be able to speak. Remote testimony makes government much more accessible and open.

Voting closed 16