The city of Everett plans this month to start offering "virtual hearings," giving individuals looking to challenge outstanding parking tickets and code enforcement issues an opportunity to take care of business remotely.
The option, which will be extended with the assistance of FaceTime and Skype, is scheduled to begin Jan. 21.
"Any function that you have to come to city hall to do, our goal is to make sure you can do it all online," Mayor Carlo DeMaria told the News Service Wednesday. "This is easier. Hearing officers see the residents, they plead their case, and a decision is made."
It's part of a push to integrate technology into city government to help people save time and potentially free up space at city hall for public meetings, retail ventures, and free work areas, the mayor said.
When the program is fully implemented, individuals will be able to go to the city hall website and schedule a virtual hearing. On the site, they will submit their parking ticket and personal information for review by the hearing officer and pick a hearing date.
On the day of the hearing, Everett Director of 311 and Parking Chad Luongo said he will call the individual on an iPad via FaceTime or Skype to discuss the disputed ticket. The information submitted before the virtual hearing is all the verification needed to confirm the person on the other end of the line, Luongo said.
"It's better for constituents and residents," he said.
Appellants do not have to be present for the hearing, according to the city, and a representative or property manager can fill in for them. Following the hearings, residents will receive an email or mail at their home informing them of the hearing officer's decision.
The city is planning to unveil a new website in February with the capability of scheduling virtual hearings online. Until then, residents can call or email officials at city hall to request a virtual hearing. Luongo said Everett will not charge individuals for a virtual parking ticket hearing.
While Everett is one of the first Massachusetts cities to offer virtual hearings, other cities, states and federal departments have explored ways to weave technology into government services.
The federal Board of Veterans Appeals plans to launch virtual hearing technology in 2020 for veterans to interact with the board via the VA Video Connect app on mobile phones or laptops, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Environmental Protection Agency held a webinarr in January 2020 on to take feedback on proposals relating to deadlines to close coal ash ponds and to repeal standards from 2015 regulating the number of toxins and pollutants coal plants pump into nearby waterways.
And in the Empire State, the New York State Workers' Compensation Board implemented virtual hearings in January 2019 to provide easier access to injured works attempting to move through the claims process.
Sheriffs in Massachusetts also use video conferencing to allow inmates to tune into their district court proceedings. Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said his county was the first to use video conferencing in all of the district courts in that county.
The move towards using technology in prisons, Coppinger said, allowed his department to save money and create a more secure and convenient environment for inmates. For every inmate that leaves the prison, the Essex County Sheriff's department assigns two officers and a van to transport the individual.
“Leaving them here in the jail and not taking them to court is a huge safety risk we’ve totally eliminated the chance of any kind of escape possibility or any type of a violent encounter with an adversary that might happen in a courthouse,” he said. “It’s a lot more convenient too. You’re not tied up in traffic. You’re not late for court.”