First Posted: 1/16/2014
State Senator Lisa Baker joined with her fellow state senators to take a huge step in terms of communicating with her constituents.
The Senators held a town hall meeting via teleconference from Harrisburg on Jan. 8 so any citizen in their districts unable to personally attend the meeting could sit and listen to what was being said while, at the same time, voice their opinions from the safety and comfort of their own homes.
Jennifer Wilson, Senator Baker’s Chief of Staff, said the teleconference was new to her and everyone else on Baker’s staff, but it was something she believes benefitted not only state residents, but also the Senator herself.
“This was my first time doing an electronic town hall meeting,” said Wilson. “The number of participants was very encouraging, and it is an extremely cost-effective way to communicate with constituents. We plan to host the calls quarterly, at varying times, in order to reach the most people.
Given the major issues and challenges facing Pennsylvania, the telephone town hall meeting provided another convenient way of reaching out to people.
Encompassing 2,500 square miles, the 20th Senatorial District that Baker serves is slightly larger than the state of Delaware and ranks as the fifth largest Senate district in Pennsylvania. It encompasses six counties, 119 municipalities and 22 school districts, including all of Pike, Wayne and Wyoming counties, as well as parts of Monroe, Luzerne and Susquehanna counties, offering unique challenges in the geographical distance that must be covered.
Wilson understands that the world is becoming a place of technological advances and Baker’s office has been able to reach out to citizens much easier.
“New technology was recently made available to the Senate that allows us to hold a town hall meeting over the phone,” said Wilson. “For many people, it is difficult to get out to an in-person event. The telephone town hall allows us to communicate with thousands of people at one time, all from the comfort of their homes.”
Baker said the technology was helpful for both citizens and the Senate.
“The technology allows us to dial out to citizens within the district. The high point was there were about 1,600 people on one line listening to the call,” said Baker. “I gave a legislative update, talked about various issues and was able to have an hour-long call in which there were 20 or more calls from citizens where they could press a button and ask a question. We couldn’t talk to everyone, but we covered all sorts of issues.”
If citizens were not directly spoken to during the meeting, they were given the option of leaving a voicemail, voicing any questions or concerns they may have had.
From there, Baker and members of her staff planned to call those who left messages or reply to email addresses from anyone who wished not to receive a call.
There were some minor mistakes made with the teleconference, but Baker is confident that, with the success of the teleconference, it will continue to be a method of operation for the Senate.
“Obviously, this is new,” said Baker. “There were some glitches, but we’re just trying to get accustomed to how the technology works. I was very pleasantly surprised at the number of people who were on the call and the number of people who wanted direct contact with me from the comfort of their home.”
Baker said a teleconference will most likely be a quarterly thing.