Greenfield City Council tables decision on meeting format

Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2021 9:48:50 AM

GREENFIELD — City Council voted Wednesday night to table a decision on whether to continue its meetings remotely or to resume in-person meetings at the John Zon Community Center.

A meeting will have to be scheduled to further discuss the issue, “so everybody is on the same page,” according to City Council Vice President Sheila Gilmour.

For the rest of the month, meetings — including any special meeting scheduled to discuss the issue — will be held remotely, as was decided at a Committee Chairs meeting earlier this month, City Council President Penny Ricketts clarified. That includes the Appointments and Ordinances Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. via Webex.

At the same meeting, the council voted in favor of an earlier start time of 6:30 p.m. for the meetings. Precinct 4 Councilor Tim Dolan was the sole dissenting vote.

The discussion on both issues followed numerous members of the public speaking on both topics, with many in support of keeping the start time at 7 p.m. rather than changing it to 6 p.m. — citing family and work obligations that prevent residents from being available earlier — and many in support of returning to in-person meetings, while advocating for a hybrid method.

“I am in favor of live meetings,” Pamela Goodwin said. “I’m also in favor of making it hybrid so that those who are impaired and elderly and working can also be involved in public government.”

Prior to public comment, Fernando Fleury, IT director for Greenfield, and Nick Ring, executive director of Greenfield Community Television (GCTV), discussed with councilors the possibility of having remote participation at in-person meetings.

“We took a more in-depth look into what we have,” Fleury said. “Some of the things we wanted to do was to be able to leverage our current TV studio equipment at John Zon and be able to use that with any new equipment we would need to buy in order to enable remote participation.”

He also said the goal is to make it as easy as possible for someone who is not a studio expert to use the equipment.

“After we looked at what we had … it’s not big enough to accommodate remote participation,” Fleury said. “The ballpark figure for that is $22- $23,000. I obviously don’t have that in my budget.”

Some of that cost would include the purchase of Zoom host licensing, a computer to connect into the Zoom room and any audio or video that needs to be routed into it, as well as the replacement of certain video production equipment that is currently limited in capabilities, such as the video switcher. 

Ring said ultimately, it is possible to allow remote participation at in-person meetings, but it’s a challenge of purchasing the equipment and doing the integration work.

Precinct 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler, who is the operation manager at Bernardston-Northfield Community Television (BNCTV), spoke to his experience setting up hybrid meetings.

“Personally, I think the investment for Greenfield to have meetings that are unmanned would be extremely high, but to do hybrid in a way that GCTV can cover it is not that hard,” he said. “The equipment that’s there now is probably not the right equipment to do it, so the cost would be almost like you were starting from scratch.”

Resident Susan Worgaftik, echoing Goodwin’s comment, said she hopes the city can find a way to do hybrid, in an effort to expand access to meetings.

“It would give people who cannot leave their homes because they have small children, or people who are disabled and have difficulty leaving their homes to go to another building … (the opportunity) to be able to participate in the process,” she said.

Others who spoke asked that councilors remain remote until a hybrid method, with remote participation, is possible.

“I really believe we have a responsibility as citizens and as representatives to ensure the meetings are accessible to the widest population as possible,” resident Katherine Golub commented.

In the councilors’ discussion on the issues, councilors had differing opinions on which route to take.

Ricketts said she would feel like a hypocrite attending events and frequenting public gatherings, all while holding remote City Council meetings. She also had concerns for people’s access to internet.

Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher, meanwhile, felt that in-person meetings restrict access to certain segments of the population, namely people with disabilities or families with young children.

While her preference for remote or in-person meetings fluctuates based on what’s going on in her house on a particular day, Gilmour said if she can meet in person, she’d prefer that.

“I like the idea of hybrid, because we have folks who maybe aren’t internet savvy … maybe don’t have internet; they can come in person,” she said. “And then we’ve got folks who maybe are working late; they can participate remotely. … Then we’re getting everybody.”

On the suggestion of Parliamentarian William Roberts — after a motion to continue remote meetings was withdrawn by DeSorgher — a motion was made to table the discussion to a later date. The motion passed unanimously.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy