May 11th, 2023
The municipalities shared the cost of purchasing an Owl teleconferencing device in the fall of 2021 for $1500. It’s a stand-alone camera and speaker that plugs into a laptop and power source. The owl-like eyes light up, indicating the power is on and working; the top of the owl’s head is a 360-degree camera, and instead of feathers, its body is a speaker. It is functional, and it’s also been described as “cute,” and you can see why.
“It was purchased during the pandemic to improve the meeting experience for Council and public who wanted to attend the meetings virtually,” said Krystal Strong, Assistant Administrator at the joint municipality, adding it “offers good sound and video for all participants.”
It’s aptly named an owl because it provides a 360-degree camera which shows the entire council chambers and focuses on the current person speaking. Using the Owl has solved audio feedback issues with multiple people in a physical room in the same Zoom meeting.
The town and RM meet twice a month, and committee meetings occur. Strong said it’s met their expectations, and the council meets in person once a month and virtually once a month, “and now that virtual meeting are running so smoothly, we tend to do a lot more of them…This has resulted in significant savings in what we were paying for mileage for each council member.”
Lumsden Mayor Brian Matheson said that it improves the sound quality for a Zoom meeting and that while it may have some trouble picking up a soft-spoken person, it helps to pick up sound. “If a person was far away from the main operating computer , they had trouble hearing them. With the directional mic that turns towards the person that’s speaking people are able to hear quite a bit better.”
The Town of Lumsden has Zoom protocol that requires their council members to have their cameras turned on “a) – so that I know my councillors are engaged, and b) – when you are talking, I can see the expressions on your face. I like meeting in person, but if you are going to be on Zoom I want to be able to see you and gauge your expressions on what you are saying, not just listen to your words.”
Trancparency is important to us and I hope we are doing a good job…”
“Trancparency is important to us and I hope we are doing a good job. We are certainly not trying to hide anything. We are responsible to the tax payer so we try very hard to make sure that their dollar is being used wisely.”
While many municipalities hold their budget discussions in closed sessions, the Town of Lumsden holds theirs in public, and councillors can get into some pretty vigorous debates. “We are spending their dollars.” There are times when the town goes into closed session during budget discussions, “but not very often,” says Matheson.
Slowly more municipalities are making their meetings more accessible to the public, not just in real-time but after the meetings have occurred. The RM of Corman Park and the RM of McKillop upload audio of their meetings to their websites. When LMT asked Mayor Matheson if this is something they’d consider, he said it wasn’t a ‘no’ but that they just haven’t had those discussions.
By Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on May 12, 2023 at 13:00