Staunton provides update on technology improvements to Council Chambers
The City of Staunton reported on progress regarding significant technology improvements to the overall functioning of City Council meetings that will improve public access and engagement when the new system is fully operational.
The city anticipates completion of installation, programming and testing in the next two months.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the city immediately implemented new procedures to conduct City Council meetings to facilitate public participation, meet state and federal public health regulations and recommendations, and satisfy City Council quorum requirements.
Initially, as permitted by a continuity of government ordinance adopted by City Council, meetings were held entirely in a virtual Zoom format. The public could continue to listen to meetings via the city’s live stream on its website and public access channel and could call in by telephone to participate in public hearings and matters from the public.
As public health restrictions were eased, the meetings shifted to a “hybrid” arrangement, with some City Council members and city staff physically present in the Rita S. Wilson Council Chambers at City Hall, and other members and meeting participants on the Zoom platform.
It quickly became apparent that the pandemic and the related public health restrictions and considerations would continue for a considerable period. In this environment, city staff began a process to invest in a robust and permanent modernization program to significantly upgrade the city’s video/live meeting arrangements for the long term.
Staunton’s CARES Act funding received from the federal government is financing the project, budgeted at $200,000.
The following improvements are being integrated into a new system to enhance the meeting experience in the Rita S. Wilson Council Chambers and the Caucus Room – for the public, City Council members and staff – as hybrid or all virtual meetings continue to be the norm:
- Audio improvements to integrate better with Zoom
- In room video and presentation displays that can be integrated with Zoom
- Audio stream improvements
- Streaming video
- Closed captioning
- Integration of public comment workflow to provide more efficient call screening and handling
- Smart board in the Caucus Room
“These changes will improve access and engagement opportunities for citizens,” says Steve Rosenberg, Staunton City Manager. “The modernization of Council Chambers and Caucus Room technology will mean appropriate and high-quality connection to public meetings, not just during this time of disruption but going forward to meet future needs as well. Using CARES Act funds for this project allows the city to implement the project with no fiscal impact, improve the efficiency of meetings and take advantage of advancements in virtual meeting technology.”
The city will provide education and training on the publicly accessible features of the new system once it is fully functioning and operational.