The City’s IT Department is hard at work these days like never before as the physical world as disintegrated into a virtual reality.
And while making sure computers and servers are configured correctly seems predictable work, one thing the department never considered having to do is build a public meeting that no one actually attends.
As the COVID-19 response continues into week three, City business is on hold, but cannot stay that way forever. With the blessing of state government, meetings have been allowed to be held online – including City Council meetings.
“We want to have it seamless so the public can see this as they would usually see it on ECTV when it goes on in the Chambers,” said IT Director Kevin Dorgan. “That is, except no one will actually be in the Chambers. They’ll all be virtual. The goal is for it to be as if they’re in the Chambers in all respects, but that really they’ll not be near each other…What people can expect to see is a slightly more polished version of the Facebook Live presentation we had on Friday. It will all get more polished as we go along.”
Right now, IT Director Kevin Dorgan is putting together a platform to have online Council meetings where voting could be conducted, presentations made, and public input gathered.
But it’s more than a notion, as there is some real thinking that needs to be done, he said.
“We are working out the minor details now,” he said. “All of the councilors have tablets and should be able to do it. What we need to work out is public participation at these meetings. Zoom meetings tend to be a little chaotic and in my experience when you open it to the public you have to be ready. There’s an article I forwarded to everyone about ‘Zoom Bombing.’ That’s been around forever. It’s just amazing that people will still do something like that…Logistically we’re looking at how the public can call in so it isn’t chaos. There will be full public participation, but we might need to figure out a way of vetting people.”
Dorgan said the public will be able to access the meetings in a number of different ways, including Facebook Live, Zoom, Google Hangouts and other platforms too. The goal is to also have it on ECTV and patched in as it looked under standard physical meeting conditions. Having it on ECTV will help to solve the problem of access to the meetings, as many people who might not have a computer or technology will be able to view it on television.
On the technical side, Dorgan said they have three backup ISP addresses to make sure things run smoothly if there is a breakdown in the connection. That backfired last Thursday during the first Facebook Live Town Hall, as Facebook doesn’t allow quick changes to an ISP address – which was a learning experience.
“It will be as close to normal as can be done under these circumstances,” he said. “In the future, they will go smoothly.”