TRAVERSE CITY — The meeting chambers in the Governmental Center will be dark and locked Monday evening, but that doesn’t mean Traverse City commissioners aren’t meeting.
They’ll be deliberating virtually, with the help of a popular video conferencing platform, according to a release from city Clerk Benjamin Marentette. It’s a new way of conducting city business, necessitated by the spread of the virus causing COVID-19 and helped by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order temporarily suspending parts of the Open Meetings Act.
Each commissioner’s and city department head’s photograph will appear while they speak, but no video, according to the release.
Marentette said he’s not concerned that using pictures instead of videos creates any transparency issues, as audiences are primarily focused on what commissioners are saying, even at in-person meetings. There are practical considerations as well.
“Primarily, it’s because the video element sometimes adds some complexity when it comes to broadcasting live that can sometimes be problematic,” Marentette said. “Also the secondary thing is really having sort of awkward angle video through webcams of commissioners’ faces, I don’t know that that really adds to the discussion.”
The public can still comment, too, Marentette said. They can watch along on cable channel 191, or online at https://tacm.tv/govtvnow.asp. Then, they can call 312-626-6799 and enter meeting ID 173-398-401, and the participant ID of “#”. Anyone using the Zoom app can watch the meeting using the same ID.
Marentette said he’ll unmute each user one by one during public comment to ask if they want to speak. That’s why he’s asking those who don’t have a comment to make to refrain from calling (those who don’t have cable TV or internet can listen along by calling, though).
The phone numbers of those who do call in will be briefly visible to anyone using the Zoom app, according to the release.
Marentette said he and others running the meeting will quickly alter this so only the last four digits appear. He hopes this doesn’t discourage anyone from calling in.
“Given the circumstances that we’re all in, and these are obviously very extraordinary times, that hopefully those who really want to give public comment are comfortable doing so,” he said.
The Zoom app has enough layers to provide some redundancy in case of a technical glitch, Marentette said.
The platform itself is robust enough that he doubts it’ll crash altogether, but if so the contingency plan calls for adjourning the meeting and reconvening later.
Commissioners on Monday could adopt a policy making these changes official for now, the agenda shows.
Marentette said this format is what the city’s settled on for the time being.
“Obviously the city is trying to do everything we can to stop the spread of coronavirus, so that means doing things to protect the public, our city commissioners and our city staff,” he said. “So what’s wonderful about this executive order issued by this governor is it allows public entities to continue to conduct vital public business and still allows the public to participate while protecting the health of everyone.”