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Bay Area Cities Move to Expand Virtual Meeting Capabilities

Belvedere and Tiburon are launching video and audio streaming capability in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Public access to council meetings was unfeasible without an upgrade in technology infrastructure.

by Lorenzo Morotti, The Marin Independent Journal / April 1, 2020
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(TNS) — While most Marin cities and towns already broadcast or livestream their council meetings, Belvedere and Tiburon are launching video and audio streaming capability amid the coronavirus crisis.

Local governments have been authorized to provide virtual public access to essential meetings as of March 4, when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in response to the coronavirus.

Like other governments in Marin, Belvedere closed its City Hall, canceled non-essential meetings and provides only essential functions. One essential function is public access to council meetings — which requires the city to upgrade its technology infrastructure, said Craig Middleton, city manager.

Before the shelter-in-place order, Belvedere’s City Council did not livestream meetings and only posted minutes and audio.

“People in the community were comfortable with that so we didn’t feel the need to install other technology to video stream,” Middleton said. “We may have to after this virus. It may be a reason to do that, but so far we haven’t had an issue with it and no one has asked for it.”

On Thursday, the council will stream its next meeting via Zoom with a live public comment section. Middleton said the city staff is working to install large monitors and wiring into the conference room so the clerk and city manager can follow along with public comment.

The upgrade will cost the city about $10,000.

Just like larger cities and towns in Marin, Belvedere is determined to abide by the shelter-in-place order and the state’s open meeting laws, said Marty Winter, a city councilman.

“Changes will have to be made,” Winter said. “It’s either that or we come out this thing the other end and hope we come back to a semblance of normal. Right now, I would not attend a public meeting.”

Winter is also on the board of the Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency. It held a meeting in early March, and he did not attend in person.

“As a 72-year-old cancer survivor … I’m in one of the more sensitive, vulnerable groups if I get infected, ” he said. “So I attended the meeting remotely using someone’s cellphone.”

In Tiburon, the town staff also faces the challenge of updating technology to provide virtual public access to council meetings.

Greg Chanis, the town manager, said the staff has “some capability” through Granicus software. The town did not livestream before the order. Staff posted audio recordings of meetings within 24 hours after meetings adjourned.

“Ideally, there will be a way for the public to comment in real time,” he said. “This can be through email or calling in, we are trying to figure out a way.”

For the special council meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, a livestream audio link will be available at bit.ly/2xC9EDt.

This is the first time the council is doing a livestream on Skype with council members joining from home, said Holli Thier, vice mayor. She said the board is committed to providing public access to meetings during these times.

Chanis said all business items that are not time sensitive will be pushed until the council can reconvene in person after the shelter-in-place order is lifted. It has been extended to May 3.

The council members will join the meeting by teleconference from their homes. Chanis and the town clerk will be in Town Hall to process public comment emails 500 words or less sent to comments@townoftiburon.org.

“I wish I could tell you public comment will be real time,” he said. “But we will have the meeting streaming in some way.”

©2020 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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