Council chambers sees technology upgrades

by Dan Holland

Independence residents visiting city council chambers will see new technology upgrades designed to improve and enhance the communication process for meetings both in person and online.

The upgrades include 18 individual monitors, two large presentation screens, an audio mixer, computer and broadcast system, two pan-tilt zoom cameras and a wireless microphone system, according to Jim Gibbs, whose firm, Fairsite Technologies, provides IT services to the city. Ten new microphones will also be added to the system in late June.

Total cost for all the equipment was $65,880.

The upgrades came in part due to “hybrid” meetings conducted by city council during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and a desire to stream meetings via social media, said Gibbs. A city council meeting and charter review workshop in May were both livestreamed from council chambers on YouTube using the new implements. All meetings will be archived for later viewing.

“For most of COVID, they were doing their meetings in the council caucus area, and it was a tight space for the number of people they sometimes had presenting. They were needing to get back into a bigger space,” explained Gibbs. “The problem with getting back into a bigger space like the council chambers is that it becomes difficult – both audio and video-wise – to have one camera do everything you need it to do; especially if you want to have a two-way conversation with people participating via Zoom as well.”

An iPad is used to control camera movements in the chamber including zooming in on individuals or groups, Gibbs added. The upgrades also provide for better presentation capabilities.

“If someone wants to do a detailed presentation of a large project they want to build in town, give a PowerPoint presentation or display detailed documents, they no longer have to drag in the projector from 1987 and a collapsible screen,” Gibbs continued. “It brings it up in full high-definition so you can see the details of what is being presented. My hope is that the city will be able to make better decisions because of that.”

Councilperson Jim Trakas said the city has been gradually upgrading its online presence over the last decade by posting city council agendas and meeting minutes on the city website.

“We’ve been migrating toward trying to give as much information to the residents as possible,” said Trakas. “We had a Zoom feature during the pandemic, during which the city meetings were done by video conference. Now, we have this option so that people can log in and see it both in the council chambers as well as online in real time.”

Trakas said he hopes the new technology will encourage more residents to be involved in future council meetings either in person or via the internet. He added that other committees and departments could use the equipment to push out real-time updates to residents.

“Everything we’ve done has been to try to maximize public information and participation, and we hope by this that the public will participate more in local government,” Trakas said. ∞