Column: Meetings better for in-person attendees, if a remote connection is provided

Screen shot of Zoom connection during the June 15, 2021 Bloomington Transit board meeting.

I attended an in-person government meeting on Tuesday, but logged in to the remote Zoom connection anyway. And I’m glad I did.

Why? I was able to hear and see better than I could have, by just sitting there listening and looking, without being logged in to Zoom.

Here’s some background.

After 15 months of meeting over video-conferenced connections to avoid spreading the COVID-19 pandemic virus, local governmental agencies are preparing to resume meeting in person starting in July.

That’s when Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s emergency health order is set to expire.

Most Bloomington area governing bodies have adopted a policy to allow remote electronic participation of members, even after the governor’s order ends.

That’s made possible by a new state statute, enacted by the state legislature this year.

The policy approach that most local bodies have taken is to allow for remote public participation in meetings, even if all members of the body attend in person.

That’s the right approach. Bloomington Transit’s board meeting this past Tuesday proves the point.

Of the many local government bodies I routinely cover, the BT board was the first to try out a hybrid meeting.

I attended in person. But I also logged in to the Zoom interface from the board room.

The BT board’s business put the technology through its paces. From an office elsewhere in the Grimes Lane headquarters facility, BT Access manager Eli McCormick gave a presentation over the remote link, complete with a screen share.

I did not notice any technological glitches in the hybrid interface. Sussing out the technical pieces for the connection was Zac Huneck, who is BT’s planning and special projects manager.

Providing a remote connection certainly would allow easier participation for many people who could not otherwise attend a public meeting. That’s a widely acknowledged benefit.

On Tuesday, I was delighted to discover two unexpected benefits to being logged in to the Zoom connection, even while sitting there in the BT board room.

First, I could hear board members better through the earbuds connected to my laptop than I could listening to the sound in the room. I was seated on the other side of the room from the board members, a distance of maybe 30 feet.

Second, I did not have to move my seat to view the big wall-mounted screen where the presentational material has always been projected for the board. That’s because the material that was presented on the wall-mounted screen simply showed the screen-share from the Zoom connection.

While the board was looking at the wall, I was looking at my laptop. We were all looking at the same image.

Another benefit was one I had expected: auto-captioning and transcription provided by the Zoom interface.

For someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, it would make the difference between being able to follow along and not. For me, it meant that I did not need to fret so much about note taking during the meeting.

I am looking forward to the time when in-person meetings are again the normal course of business for all government meetings.

I also look forward to connecting remotely to the room where I’m already sitting.

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