Anyone else think conducting local government meetings “virtually” has been allowed long enough? Sitting through one of these online sessions is more taxing than you might think, and there are other problems as well.
Albany’s city councilors held another “GoToMeeeting” session Wednesday night, with members trying to hear and make themselves understood through all the squeaks, feedback howls, and rustlings of the audio setup.
They argued for a while about the time period of an option the city intends to give to the Cumberland Community Event Center group for buying a city lot near Hackleman Park. They voted 5-1, with Bessie Johnson opposed, to grant the option until Oct. 1. But that’s just one step. The city also intends to lease the group three additional lots at the same site, as well as the Cumberland Church itself until the group moves the church, then sell the church for one dollar.
It’s a complicated setup, and all of it depends on the Cumberland group raising enough money to go ahead, starting with the $69,000 the city wants for the single lot near the skatepark. Moving and renovating the old church and turning it into an event center is expected to cost well above a million dollars. (And just exactly what an additional event center would accomplish that can’t be done at the Expo Center has never been fully explained.)
The council eventually will have to hold a public hearing on selling the city property, namely the old building and the land to which the group wants to move it. But if contracts have already been signed and commitments made, the hearing will be an obvious sham.
But back to the virtual meetings. The technology is flawed. Half the time you can’t hear what anybody is saying because of all the electronic interference, not to mention the noises the individual laptops of councilors pick up as people move around, tap their desks, or maybe grab a snack.
The camera work is left up to each participant. Councilor Mike Sykes has set up his computer so you get to know the ceiling fan above him. Rich Kellum often leans in so you see mostly the top of his head. On the lens of Bessie Johnson’s camera , there seems to be some fuzz so we see her through a kind of haze. Or maybe it’s the lighting.
About the only ones that come through consistently clear and mostly audible are Mayor Sharon Konopa and Councilors Bill Coburn and Alex Johnson II.
Beyond the technical difficulties, there’s doubt about how public these meetings really are. On Wednesday, somebody had written to the council (City Attorney Sean Kidd mentioned it for the record), but the message was not presented during “business from the public” as it might have been in ordinary times, and its content was not disclosed.
On Monday, at a work session, Sykes said he hoped the council could soon resume regular meetings. People who try to keep an eye on the city’s public business no doubt agree. (hh)