WESTLOCK – People logging into Westlock County’s meetings online will witness a clearer connection and should actually be able to see and hear what’s happening.
For the May 9 committee of the whole meeting, the municipality unveiled its state-of-the-art $13,538 audio-visual set-up which includes a new computer and monitors, camera and microphone, while an additional $1,800 was spent on electrical upgrades to council chambers — at their Feb. 14 meeting, councillors approved a spend of up to $20,000 on the system.
CAO Tony Kulbisky said the upgrades were long overdue as over the past year, online presenters and attendees complained of not being able to hear councillors and would frequently cut out. At the April 25 meeting, Coun. Stuart Fox-Robinson attended online and repeatedly asked councillors and presenters to repeat themselves, while by the end of the meeting the connection had gone dead and he had to be contacted via the phone.
Reeve Christine Wiese said they “dreaded” when councillors had to participate online as the “visual and sound quality was so poor” and the old equipment made it hard to chair a meeting as she would look around the room and see “confusion and frustration on (the faces of) my fellow councillors as we all struggled to piece together what was, or I should say, wasn’t coming through clearly.”
“We’re pretty pleased with the upgrade and have run a number of Zoom meetings already,” said Kulbisky in advance of the May 16 regular meeting.
“We have only had the equipment for a short time. But the improvements are making a huge difference in the quality of meetings we are presenting. We have already had to use the new equipment and the presentations, and the visual quality is so clean and crisp,” said Wiese May 17.
Case in point, finance manager Faraja Amanda presented the April 2023 variance report to councillors May 16 via Zoom and the video and audio was crystal clear.
“It works pretty slick. We can hear the presenter, see the presenter and they can hear us and see us. So, it’s a 100 per cent improvement,” said Kulbisky.
“We have staff who regularly sign on to our meeting from their offices and this allows them to keep informed on council discussions, be available to council if we have questions they can answer during our meetings, all while continuing to work from their own offices,” added Wiese.
As part of the Feb. 14 briefing to councillors, administration noted the previous AV equipment had failed and the temporary solution was “causing issues with online presenters and residents viewing the meetings.” The county’s contracted IT specialist, Trinus, installed the new equipment which includes a ceiling-mounted condenser microphone, Bluetooth sound-bar speaker and video conferencing camera.
Wiese added that one of council’s strategic priorities is to be transparent and keep residents informed and this equipment “is an investment in that priority.” COVID-19 gathering restrictions in 2020 forced all municipalities to add video-conferencing capabilities to its meetings as prior, the only way to attend the Town of Westlock, county and Village of Clyde meetings was in person.
“We know that many residents are unable to attend in chambers so having the ability for us to record clearer meetings is beneficial for them to sign on to our website and listen in a time that meets their day-to-day schedules,” she added. “I also know our previous equipment was a cause of extreme stress on our recording secretary as these recordings assist her to comprise accurate minutes, which is essential for all municipalities.”