Video Calls Boost Civic Engagement in One Miami Town

A Miami suburb rocked by a recent corruption scandal is pulling out all the stops to increase citizen trust and engagement. Its latest tool: video calls.

Governing reports:

In January, the Miami Lakes Town Council approved an initiative, introduced by [Mayor Manny Cid], to let residents teleconference into public meetings. So if they can't show up, they can still weigh in on issues in their community. Many cities live stream public meetings, either through their website or Facebook page, but allowing two-way communication with live remote public testimony is rare.

“We’re making million-dollar decisions on a monthly basis and yet we’re not hearing from any of our residents,” says Cid. “The reality is that most people are at work or running around. They are dealing with everyday issues, but they would like to have their voices heard.”

Interested citizens can go to the town's website to download a video conferencing software onto their computers or mobile devices. The council then gives each remote participant three minutes to speak near the beginning of the meeting.

Mayor Cid implemented the new program after the town’s previous mayor was arrested on bribery charges. It’s just one of many ideas he’s pursued to create an air of openness and transparency. It will come at a cost of about $500 per year.

Similar tools are being considered elsewhere. Burbank, California has discussed allowing for pre-recorded public comments as well. But that idea has not been embraced by the majority of city council members.