Most government meetings take place in a “webinar” format, with only the panelists visible on the screen and spectators anonymous, able to see and hear but not participate.
But Tuesday’s monthly session of the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission was a Zoom meeting format, with more than 20 boxes visible on the screen, including several showing just call-in numbers. Those in the gallery all were visible, and many were called on to speak, just like at an actual public meeting.
But there was a difference.
Almost an hour-and-a-half into the meeting, Bedford resident Jennifer Boles asked commission Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln, “Are any of the Massport staff still in the meeting at all at this point?” There was no reply until Eliot said, “I don’t see anybody.”
Boles continued, “It seems that routinely, all the Massport representatives leave the meeting early, before the meeting’s over, and especially they leave before the citizen comments… The point of the meeting is for the citizens and the residents to engage through HFAC, the commission, as a conduit with Massport. And it seems a little odd that they all leave before the meeting is over.”
Later, two of the Massport representatives at the meeting were asked by email to respond to the situation. They referred the question to the media relations office.
Friday morning, Bernice Freedman, assistant director, replied in an email, “As noted on Tuesday’s agenda, the staff made their presentations as planned and respectfully answered several questions, altogether spending an hour with the group.
“When the chairman announced moving on to the next agenda item, for which Massport staff were not scheduled to speak, the staff logged out quietly so not to disrespect and disrupt the ongoing discussions. Massport staff are always available for additional questions beyond the scheduled meeting time.”
This does not normally occur during live HFAC meetings, particularly since for the past several years they have been hosted by the authority at the Hanscom Civil Air Terminal.
For some time, each commission meeting has ended with two standard precautionary questions addressed to Massport representatives: “Have there been any inquiries from commercial passenger airlines? Have there been any inquiries from cargo airlines?” The practice has become known almost jokingly at times as “the two questions.” Indeed, they were on Tuesday’s agenda as the last item.
At the meeting, Bedford Select Board member Emily Mitchell noted that “there’s no one to answer our questions. Should we simply move to adjourn?” Commission member Margaret Coppe insisted on asking them anyway.
It was also noted that minutes of HFAC virtual meetings are often drafted by Massport using a recording.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763