To help promote public participation in Mt. Lebanon Commission meetings, the municipal information technology manager has come up with a plan for online streaming.
Nick Schalles presented information during the commission’s discussion session Tuesday about implementing a system that could be in place by mid-August.
The plan is to take the video feed normally used for recording purposes and tie it in to webinar software that would allow participants to join remotely.
“It’s not going to be a huge expense, because we are reusing a lot of our equipment,” Schalles said. “So we don’t have to purchase cameras or anything like that.”
The commission had been meeting remotely since March because of restrictions and safety concerns prompted by COVID-19.
On Tuesday, municipal officials reconvened in person for the bimonthly discussion session and regular meeting, with limited attendance to help promote social distancing.
With the new system, people who plan to participate in meetings remotely must sign up, as opposed to simply watching a live-streamed video. But the webinar format gives residents the opportunity to provide comments even if they are not attending in person.
At the July 14 discussion session, which was conducted via webinar, Craig Grella, commission president, addressed the potential number of comments increasing exponentially with the capability of doing so remotely.
“It’s easier to do it online or even over the phone than it is to come in person,” he said. “I really like the idea of making our meetings more accessible and easier for people to interact with. But I recognize there will be issues.”
Solicitor Philip Weis agreed.
“You would have a much more likely possibility of that happening the more you allow citizen comments to be given and received through something like we’re doing now,” he said.
The commission can set parameters that comply with the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which requires governmental agencies to deliberate and take official action on business in an open meeting that has a public participation component.
“Agencies must provide a reasonable opportunity for residents and/or taxpayers to comment on an issue before a decision takes place. Agencies are permitted to establish rules to oversee public comment by, for example, limiting the time for each commenter,” according to the state Office of Open Records.
Also July 14, Commissioner Leeann Foster asked about the possibility of implementing a webinar-type participation system for municipal advisory panels. She gave the example of the Community Relations Board, which conducts a substantial amount of outreach to residents.
“I think we need to get this issue tackled,” she said about commission meetings, “but then maybe think about what’s the best platform for us to use to facilitate conversation on issues that are important to our citizens right now. And that can be, quite frankly, kind of tough conversations, but necessary for us to continue to move forward. We can’t just say, ‘Well, because of COVID, we’re not able to meet.’”
Schalles said the municipality has the applicable technology, and it can be implemented eventually.
“Right now, we’re just shooting for the commission,” he said. “We can do something, but we’re going to have to work out logistics.”