Omaha councilman wants virtual option for public testimony to continue permanently

Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 5:28 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha Councilman Pete Festersen is pushing for a permanent change the way citizens are involved in City Council meetings.

Zoom meetings have become a part of daily life for many since the pandemic hit the Omaha-metro in March. Since then, it’s quickly become a safe way to give members of the community a way to access local government, and allowed under an executive order the governor issued during the pandemic.

Festersen wants to see it continue even after the health crisis ends.

“I think it should be embraced and used to the greatest extent possible to allow citizens to participate in local government,” Festersen said.

He said allowing the public to comment on the agenda over zoom will give more people an opportunity to be involved in issues within the community.

City Council meetings are on Tuesday afternoons, when most people are at work.

“Regardless of there being a pandemic or not, citizens would have access to local government to testify over Zoom and have virtual access. And it will allow for greater transparency and access to local government,” Festersen said.

The council will vote on at their meeting Tuesday.

Festersen said he believes that if this passes, members of the community will embrace the use of technology in government.

“I do think people are used to using things like Zoom now in government, business, and education — and it’s free. So I think it does have those advantages. As long as we offer it to folks and it will improve access,” he said.

Festersen said he is also pushing for state legislation that would allow this type of transparency in all local government meetings, including city board meetings and Douglas County Board of Commissioners meetings.

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