The Honorable Ronald Mariano, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Karen Spilka, Senate President
State House, Boston

Delivered Electronically

Dear Speaker Mariano and President Spilka,

On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, I am writing to express our deep appreciation to you and your colleagues in the General Court for your strong partnership with the communities of Massachusetts. Thanks to your steady stewardship, our cities and towns have been able to navigate the most damaging public health crisis of our lifetime, and local officials are now positioned to propel their communities forward, even in the face of significant economic headwinds. The coming legislative session will present many opportunities to continue this strong partnership, and we are grateful that you are at the helm to partner with all our cities and towns.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, you and your colleagues in the Legislature acted swiftly to create a broad range of special rules that enabled cities and towns to maintain operations, continue to conduct business, hold elections, create budgets, and support residents and local economies. This critical work showed a united front in the fight against COVID-19 and catalyzed important innovations in municipal operations. We are thankful that the Legislature fully understands the importance of these provisions, and will consider ways to enshrine these new flexibilities into long-term policy.

As we approach the expiration of these temporary rules, we respectfully urge you to further extend these authorizations to July 1, 2024. Extending these provisions until next July would give important reliability for local officials, while also providing necessary time to deliberate on legislation regarding remote public meetings, remote Town Meetings, outdoor dining, and much more.

The Option of Remote Meetings For Public Bodies
The option of remote public meetings has ensured continuity of local operations and provided the additional benefit of increased public access, engagement, and transparency. Every city and town in the Commonwealth has dozens of councils, boards and commissions, many of which have relied on the option of remote meetings and the use of virtual platforms to conduct business. If the current authorizations lapse, thousands of public entities would be impacted across the state. Extending the current provisions to July 2024 would allow municipalities to maintain consistency while allowing for the flexibility they need to determine the remote options that make sense given limited capacity and limited resources.

As you know, we have raised significant concern regarding the impact of mandating hybrid meetings. This is because the vast majority of cities and towns lack the technology, staffing, and capacity to implement a mandated approach, since hybrid meetings (simultaneous in-person and remote participation) are much more complicated than all-in-person or all-remote sessions. We are respectfully asking for an extension of the existing remote meeting option, as that is the only feasible approach in the foreseeable future. An extension to July 2024 would provide the time needed to assess what resources would be required to implement a more complex hybrid approach for more than ten thousand local boards, committees, and commissions.

Remote Town Meetings and Caucuses
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Governor’s state of emergency powers suspended certain provisions of state law, and municipalities worked quickly to adopt new platforms and technology to create successful remote Representative Town Meeting experiences for their governments and the public. As the technology continues to improve these functions, there is a need to make these options permanent, not only for Representative Town Meetings, but for Open Town Meetings and caucuses as well.

The current authorizations expire March 31, 2023, just as municipalities are beginning to hold their annual Town Meetings. Extending the current authorizations would allow them to maintain consistency and stability, while providing needed flexibility to prepare for important local government decisions, while keeping health, safety, and public participation in mind.

Outdoor Dining
Current authorizations allowing municipalities to approve temporary permits to expand outdoor dining services are set to expire on April 1st, just as the outdoor dining season renews. Extending these authorizations would stabilize and support the service industry and Massachusetts restaurants, an economic force in cities and towns and a business sector hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Thanks to your leadership, cities and towns have been able to continue their innovative use of technology to ensure resilient and flexible approaches to the conduct of municipal meetings and operations. As you know, the vast majority of municipal board and committee members are volunteers, donating their time to nighttime meetings, doing their best to serve their neighbors. The current remote options that you have extended multiple times have helped immuno-compromised volunteers participate fully and allowed community residents to view live-streamed meetings in real time. We respectfully ask that you provide another extension to continue this progress.

Thank you very much for your support for the communities of Massachusetts, and for your consideration of this important matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Ali DiMatteo at 617-426-7272 or at any time.

With abiding appreciation,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO

The Honorable Aaron M. Michlewitz, House Chair
The Honorable Michael J. Rodrigues, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Ways and Means
The Honorable Antonio F.D. Cabral, House Chair
The Honorable Nick Collins, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight