By Chad Ingram
During a Nov. 5 meeting, Algonquin Highlands councillors discussed options for continuing the live-streaming of council proceedings once it is safe to reconvene meetings in person.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, council meetings for the lower-tier councils and upper-tier council of Haliburton County have been taking place through online conferencing app Zoom, typically with the mayors stationed in council chambers while remaining council members participate from their homes. The Zoom meetings are then broadcast to the public via YouTube.
During last week’s meeting, councillors received a report from county IT director Mike March outlining options for the continuation of live-streaming meetings, which would include the purchase of audiovisual equipment for council chambers.
That process would include the installation of a video camera to capture council proceedings, the purchase of microphones for use by councillors and staff, as well as a large monitor, either to be mounted on the wall or on a moveable cart, to allow council to interact with residents and presenters making delegations though Zoom.
The option with the moveable cart was the most expensive at approximately $13,600. March said he thought that aesthetically and functionally, this option might be best, since it would allow councillors to look more directly at a delegate, rather than looking up at a wall-mounted monitor.
“I don’t mind spending a little bit of money so that we do it right, so that we do the meetings well, so that we can focus on the meetings, and that there is the most opportunity for the public to pay attention,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt.
Money for the equipment will come from provincial modernization funding received by the township.
“We do have the modernization money, and this is definitely a step toward the modernization of business practices,” Moffatt said.
Chief administrative officer Angie Bird noted there is no date currently planned for reconvening of in-person council meetings.
“We are just getting ready for when it’s safe for council to be in the council chamber again,” Bird said.
“Yeah, there’s no plan for council to implement this live-streaming system and then start coming to the office,” Moffatt said.
She noted the live-streaming of meetings would extend beyond the pandemic. “The public is enjoying watching meetings, and seeing what’s being discussed and how,” Moffatt said. “So, this is meant to accommodate a longer term accessibility of our business to the public, notwithstanding the challenges we face at the moment, with COVID.”
Councillor Jennifer Dailloux said she’d like to explore the option of allowing councillors to participate via Zoom from their own laptops while sitting around the council table, despite some potential problems with audio feedback, rather than broadcasting a single shot of council chambers to the public. “I still feel that seeing individual faces, like we are seeing now, is a more effective means of communicating, even to the general public who are watching, than seeing tiny little heads, you know, in the distance, scattered around a room,” Dailloux said. “I believe that I would prefer to try using Zoom from our personal computers as we’re sitting in council chambers, to see if we can do away with some of the risks of the feedback loops and all of those things, first, before we spend money on equipment.”
March said that type of setup would require either one central microphone source, or for councillors to wear headsets. He reiterated that if everyone’s mics were activated on their laptops, those mics would pick up sound from their neighbours and potentially cause feedback.
“I do like what Councillor Dailloux is saying about a face-on view, for everybody to see,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen. “I like that better than a distance view.”
“Hearing what council is saying, I’m wondering if we as staff can take this away and maybe do some experimenting and bring it back for some recommendations to council,” Bird said.
The issue will come back to the council table.