Part I: How virtual meetings could forever change Texas governments

While no one knows what the post-pandemic world will look like, it seems likely that some of the changes implemented during stay-at-home orders might stick around for the foreseeable future. For instance, there are undoubtedly Texas businesses that have had their eyes opened to the potential cost savings available to them by having some or all of their employees working from home. And there are no doubt Lone Star municipalities and citizens that now recognize that there can be benefits to conducting some public hearings and meetings virtually, with video conferencing or other remote methods.

A recent survey of four states (Texas, Ohio, Florida and California) to assess the changes brought about by the pandemic’s social distancing in state and local politics and decision-making. The results of the study “demonstrate(s) a major shift in political dynamics that will dramatically impact local planning, zoning, economic development, and municipal decision-making for years to come,” said lobbying firm Consensus Strategies.

The company says that this form of digital democracy will shift the focus of these hearings away from special interest groups, stakeholders and the few who live next door to proposed projects and developments.

Their survey of 3,086 people found that while 20 percent of respondents claimed they had attended a public meeting in the past year, that group would expand by more two and a half times (53 percent) if meetings and hearings were held virtually.

Virtual meetings would broaden community participation and decisions would include considerations of risks and rewards for the entire community rather than the much smaller group of abutters (those who own properties adjoining a proposed development, new land use, zoning change, etc.).

We’ll have more on the survey and its implications in an upcoming post. Please check our Texas Municipal Law Blog again.