Communities will benefit from Zoom access to many public meetings

One of the small silver linings of the impact of COVID-19 on Sanpete County is that a number of the local cities have begun offering their council meetings for people to attend remotely via Zoom video conferencing.

That capability, however, could be leveraged even further to provide an immensely valuable service to the community.

With cities and towns across Sanpete having put various public health guidelines and policies in place in an effort to mitigate the risk from public gatherings, Gunnison, Manti, Ephraim, Mt. Pleasant, Spring City and others made the jump to making regular council meetings available for the public to access through Zoom.

But instead of merely offering an option to watch and listen to a council meeting live using video conferencing technology, Sanpete cities and towns could and should be taking it a step further by recording the meetings in video and audio and making them available in an archive of past meeting videos that can be viewed anytime.

If a municipality already offers a Zoom option for their council or town board, it’s an incredibly simple matter to record the meeting for use in an archive on a city website or for uploading to the Utah Public Notice website.

All you have to do to make it happen is check a box on the Zoom meeting setup screen that you want to record the meeting, and Zoom handles the rest, making a link available after the meeting is over to download either the video and audio, or the audio by itself.

There are multiple reasons for municipalities to take this extra step in service to their respective communities. The first and most important, at least in our current pandemic, is simply making it perfectly easy for citizens to be able to stay connected to what is happening in local government without having to actually attend in person.

For medically vulnerable people, this is especially important, and is of course connected to the entire reason the Zoom capability became more common among Sanpete’s various municipal meetings in the first place—public safety.

While it’s great that people in a number of Sanpete’s  towns can currently log in to a city council meeting via Zoom, with it being such a simple matter to allow that to happen for any meeting at any time, there is absolutely no significant reason why meeting video archives should not be the norm.

Many, if not most, elected officials serving on councils and town boards are retired, but the majority of their constituents are working class, and often parents of younger children.

Even if the pandemic were not an issue, think about how many citizens might be kept from attending public meetings such as that of a city council due to issues like disabilities, parental obligations, working late and other factors that can make it hard to be there at 7 p.m. on a weeknight.

Sure, all public meetings are required to have their audio recorded and made available on the Utah Public Notice website, but the truth is audio quality can be poor and difficult to discern what is being said and by who without the visual reference you get from a recorded Zoom meeting.

For example, although Gunnison City provides fairly high quality audio recordings of their council meetings, it is significantly easier to follow a meeting recorded with video through their Zoom setup, which is very well implemented.

As long as Zoom is already set up for a municipality, there are very few complicating factors in making a meeting video archive—namely a bit of extra work and increased storage needs due to video file sizes being larger than audio only. The benefits of the archive would far outweigh the inconvenience or modest storage expansions that could arise.

If a town hasn’t jumped on the video conferencing bandwagon, there is no time like the present to make it happen. Most of the Sanpete cities who got set up for Zoom functionality over the last year were able to get the whole system paid for with COVID relief funding, so it’s not exactly costing local residents more in taxes.

The Messenger believes so strongly that the implementation of an archive of public meeting videos for each city would be a huge boon to the community, that we would even be willing to loan one of our tech savvy staff members at no charge to help with the technical details of getting Zoom set up and ready to record, as well as advise on how to make the videos accessible to community members.

One of the truest services a local government can offer its citizens is genuine transparency, and making the full video and audio available for every open meeting at any given time is one of the truest forms of transparency a town can achieve; this way, citizens and elected officials both know that anytime they need to confirm what was said at a meeting, the truth is only a couple clicks away.