Luskin: Joys And Woes Of Virtual Meetings

Feb 12, 2018

Every year I’ve been Town Moderator, I’ve driven one hundred and twenty miles to Montpelier to attend a refresher course on Roberts Rules of Order.

It’s a terrific workshop, and helps me prepare for Town Meeting. It’s also a chance to socialize with and learn from other moderators. The social aspect begins before dawn as our carpool from the south assembles. These car rides were remarkably helpful when I was new at the job. While Moderators have to stay on script while wielding the gavel, they can be a garrulous group on a long car-ride, full of stories about some of the unexpected ways meetings can go, from hours-long debate about a three-dollar expenditure to backed-up plumbing in the Town Hall. But this year, a confident forecast for significant snow made driving unsafe.

Instead of canceling, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which sponsors the event, nimbly arranged for a live video feed.

Staying off the road meant a windfall of four extra hours at my desk to meet a looming deadline, but I was sorry to miss catching up with the cohort of local moderators with whom I’ve forged friendships over the years.

Instead, I logged on to the live feed, and there was Ed Chase, a thirty-year veteran moderator, already reviewing Roberts Rules. Only I couldn’t hear him. I wasn’t alone. A flurry of text messages suggested some fixes. I tried them all. None worked. So I texted the Moderator in Dummerston, who lives just five miles from me.
“Sure,” she said. “Come over.”

Watching the program together allowed us to compare notes, and during the breaks, we socialized. As the snow piled up outside, we agreed that with just a few refinements, this might be a better way to hold these meetings in the future, regardless of the weather. Instead of all of us driving to Montpelier, we could meet regionally, with technology set up and tested in advance. This would allow us to review Roberts Rules with the experts at the state capital as well as share experiences with local moderators.

Ideally, those of us from the southeast could congregate in a single location in Windham County to attend the workshop, so we could enjoy some of the camaraderie of the statewide event while reducing our collective carbon footprint. Because the last thing Moderators want is a reputation for creating hot air.