Ozark Board of Aldermen, city employees meet on Zoom April 6, 2020

THE OZARK BOARD OF ALDERMEN held a meeting that included staff members over the Zoom video conferencing platform on April 6. Video from the meeting was also streamed on YouTube.

“This is going to be interesting,” Ozark Mayor Rick Gardner said. “It’s probably going to take a little bit longer than normal, but we will muddle our way through this. It shouldn’t be a problem if we are all patient with one another.”

The mayor’s words set the table for the first ever Ozark Board of Aldermen meeting conducted on a digital stage, using Zoom teleconferencing. Five aldermen, the mayor and several city employees took part in the meeting April 6, using computers and cell phones to go about an event that would normally be held at City Hall. 

All told, Ozark’s first digitized government meeting went pretty smoothly. 

There will always be those moments that anyone who has ever been on a conference call, taken part in a webinar or even watched a training video has rolled their eyes at. Someone’s connection cuts out while they are talking, strange noises pop up in the background, a message meant to be encouraging and driven comes off cheesy or rigid.

Awkward pauses. There will be always be awkward pauses.

As a journalist, there simply won’t ever be any sort of interaction that replaces face-to-face attendance, but the online meeting was the next best thing, given the circumstances. I still think being present whenever a city government or the Christian County Commission is working in open session is best for me and best for you, the reader, but I’m glad to see local governments making these digital options available.

Part of me enjoyed watching and following along. I enjoyed putting down my legal pad and pen and instead taking notes on a desktop computer that I’d never be able to drag into Ozark City Hall. I hope Ozark is able to continue streaming audio and video of its board of aldermen meetings once the COVID-19 pandemic has somewhat calmed down and public health restrictions allow governments to gather again. I think that once they got used to it, there are plenty of other Ozark residents who would enjoy streaming their local government’s meetings. There’s a chance it would encourage more people to take part in some good old-fashioned civic engagement.

It’s great that the mayor encouraged everyone to be “patient with one another.” What a great reminder in such a time of impatience, self-seeking and frustration.

Some of the people who read this newspaper have made it quite clear that they have had it with the COVID-19 pandemic, they are tired of stay-at-home orders, they don’t like the way I’ve gone about covering coronavirus stories, and they just want to be able to do what they want and get on with their lives.

Hey, I’m right there with you. Our business is struggling just like everyone else’s. We’re trying to adapt and meet the obligations that we have to our community, but we’re also wondering exactly where our next dollar is coming from. It’s very easy to get so wrapped up in worrying about how the response to COVID-19 is impacting our own lives that we lose sight of why we do what we do.

We’re trying to make the lives of the people who live in our community better. That starts at a very basic level right now, because the public health and infectious disease experts have advised that we all need to take some actions and make some sacrifices to preserve human lives. 

We’re asked to have empathy for people we’ve never met. We’re asked to make some sacrifices on behalf of total strangers we will never know. We’re asked to make ourselves uncomfortable for the greater good of society. Most of us don’t enjoy being told what to do. We’d rather be given options or choices, but the choice today is very clear.

We’re going to stay the course. That’s what real leadership is. The people who truly make a good community great are the ones willing to be patient with each other, to do their best to be empathetic and take on difficult challenges where the only reward is their survival and maybe someone else’s betterment of life.

Right now, we’re all stuck on hold in one of life’s teleconference calls. Rather than get mad, selfish or upset, we should choose to show some patience. There may be some better changes ahead.

—Rance Burger

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