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Remote access online for Charles City, Floyd County public meetings

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charlescitypress.com

Public meetings in Charles City are going virtual in an attempt to not go viral.

In order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, tonight’s (Monday’s) City Council planning workshop will be by video conferencing.

Tonight’s Charles City Board of Education and Tuesday morning’s Floyd County Board of Supervisors meetings will also be electronic.

“It’s actually really easy to use. It’s pretty slick,” said City Administrator Steve Diers about the program the city will use.

Using Zoom.com, council members and city staff can interact and discuss agenda items from a remote location via their smartphones, tablets or computers.

“From an accessibility standpoint, it’s going to be nice – using the technology that’s there and available to us,” Diers said.

He said remote communication of public meetings is just one more way communities are taking measures to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Public buildings such as City Hall, the school district’s facilities and the courthouse were essentially closed to the public last week, with very narrow exceptions.

Diers said he didn’t know how long the city will hold council meetings with the software application as a host.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “We’re just taking it a day at a time and an hour at a time.”

A social distancing protocol was implemented at last Monday’s regular council meeting where council members and city staff made sure to remain six-feet apart while seated.

For tonight’s planning workshop, select city staff and Mayor Dean Andrews will be present in the council chambers. Diers said there will be a limit of no more than five or six people allowed in the chambers.

“The council members will be off-site, probably from their homes. The mayor will be here at City Hall. We’ll have him up on his spot there at the podium,” said Diers. “We’ll run it like we do any other workshop, we’ll just be using that Zoom type of interface.”

The public can attend in person and listen to the meeting discussions while complying with that six-foot social distancing rule. People can also view the meeting on their computers or smartphones on zoom.com.

“We think it could be a good platform to work, certainly during these interesting times,” said Diers.

Diers said at workshops there is no designated public comment period, but at upcoming regular meetings there will be a chance for community members to comment over the conferencing app.

“I’ll be hosting it and kind of monitoring that. So when we get to that public comment period, I’ll open it up to anybody that wants to ask any questions or address the council and they’ll be able to do it within that platform,” said Diers.

“If somebody doesn’t have access, we will allow a limited number of people to come into City Hall and come in the council chambers and speak that way. We’ll probably have an extra computer up there to do that with.”

Diers said city staff and council members will be able to view each other with the software while logged in.

“Everybody has their own square,” said Diers. “I call it the Brady Bunch view.”

Whoever is speaking, their square in the gallery view will be highlighted in yellow.

“It’s the next best thing to seeing them in person,” said Diers.

Diers said up until last week, he was using a free Zoom account to host meetings. That account limited the amount of time and access one could utilize. So he upgraded to a professional account for $160 a year.

“I think you’ll see more and more use of the technology just on a regular basis,” said Diers. “Boy, talk about another reason as to why we need to have a fiber-to-the-home project.”

Regular public meetings are also shown on Channel 4 on Mediacom through the Charles City Public Access Network. Those meetings are recorded, then uploaded and shown at a later date.

Diers said the Zoom app could record City Council meetings that eventually could be viewed on that local TV channel.

“It will probably be much better quality than what you can see now with our recording equipment,” he added.

“I think we’ve got most of the wrinkles figured out,” he said. “I just ask everybody to bear with us as we try to learn this new approach. They’ll be some hiccups along the way, I’m sure. But we’re going to try to do the best to keep our meetings open and accessible. It’s going to be a learning process for all involved.”

Here is the contact information for upcoming public meetings:

• Charles City Council meeting — 6 p.m. Monday, March 23, in the council chambers at City Hall. Zoom.com meeting ID: 939 016 608; password: 798519; phone number 312-626-6799.

• Charles City Board of Education — 6:15 p.m. Monday, March 23, in the high school commons/study hall. Facebook Live at www.facebook.com/CharlesCityCSD; call-in: 563-293-6655; PIN: 489154730.

• Floyd County Board of Supervisors — 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 24, in the assembly room at the courthouse. Teleconference number 641-257-6265; access code 1235#.

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