Tensions concerning recording council meetings and online interaction rose to the surface during Monday night’s Harrison Hot Springs Council meeting.
Though the meeting was among the briefest in recent memory, the conversations could’ve gone well into the night had council not drawn the public questions session to a close a short time before 8:30 p.m.
The council unanimously approved moving recording equipment from the council chambers at the village office to the new meeting place in Memorial Hall to record meetings for public viewing. The setup would be simple – a camera on a tripod with a new, upgraded wide-angle lens. The lens would capture the entire council table setup but wouldn’t see the presentation screen, which has yet to be utilized this year anyway. The meetings would then be uploaded to the village’s YouTube channel in the days following the council meeting.
Aside from the status quo – no video recordings at all – this would be the most inexpensive option village staff put on the table, to which council allocated up to $1,000.
There were two other options outside of the status quo and the one council approved. The most expensive option – with an installation cost of $7,500 and an estimated annual cost of $5,000 – would have allowed for multiple cameras, requiring additional staff. The second most expensive option would’ve run about $2,000, taking the existing equipment to mount over the auditorium doors. This would capture the council table from a distance and would not require staff to operate once recording begins.
Video recording and posting was successfully executed during the May 4 meeting this year at the village offices. Though well-intentioned, the timing of the emergence of video coverage at the usual council chambers proved to be unfortunate. Village officials prepared to meet in Memorial Hall in order to better accommodate the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and allow the public to attend.
Representatives from the newly formed Harrison Hot Springs Residents Association (HHSRA), called the proposed measures “unacceptable,” saying posting the meetings after the fact offers residents no chance to voice their concerns if they can’t attend the meetings due to COVID-19 or other obligations.
“You make a decision, you vote on it and we find out about it later,” the HHSRA organizer told the council. “It’s been going on for a very long time. That’s unacceptable.”
The organizers suggested the widely utilized video communications software Zoom as a viable solution for optimal public interaction during meetings while remaining COVID safe. The HHSRA rep added her church successfully held a 127-person service over Zoom; she and resident John Allen suggested council could easily incorporate it into their COVID safety measures.
Allen further offered to bring his own equipment to live-stream the meeting, but Mayor Leo Facio declined the offer, saying Allen could bring a pocket audio recorder or use his phone to record audio for his own personal use instead.
Village officials indicated streaming live via YouTube would not be feasible with the current setup, and Mayor Facio said that the village lacked additional staffing to effectively run a Zoom meeting.
The problem doesn’t necessarily lie in using Zoom itself. In the eyes of village officials, the issue comes in not attending Zoom meetings but running Zoom in seminar mode, which would ideally include an IT-trained moderator to queue the public questions and troubleshoot efficiently to fix any interruptions. Village staff also indicated Zoom may not be accessible for residents due to the required internet speed and technology, but the in-person meetings are among the simplest options available.
Village officials can also be reached for questions anytime by calling 604-796-2171 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due in part to its universal, multi-device accessibility and simple setup, municipalities and similar authorities all over the world have utilized Zoom in their official business; most similar municipalities and authorities the Observer contacted already had or have added designated moderators, IT specialists or both to be present during the live video meetings.
The HHSRA operates primarily on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HHSResidentsAssociation. The active community currently has 61 likes.
The next Harrison Hot Springs Council meeting is slated for Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall.
In an effort to curb COVID-19 spread, those who attend public meetings will be required to register their contact information. If you have symptoms of a cold or of COVID-19 (fever, coughing, fatigue), please stay home.