Prince Albert city council approved a $140,000 plan to upgrade audio and visual equipment inside council chambers, and make it possible to stream council meetings over the internet.
City clerk Sherry Person wrote that many residents had requested online streaming options since the COVID-19 state of emergency made it impossible to physically attend meetings. Person did not attend Monday’s executive committee meeting. Communications manager Kiley Bear presented the report in her place.
Bear said the current system is a patchwork approach, which is something they’re trying to get away from.
“There are several advantages to properly funding the proposed integrated system,” Bear told council. “It replaces a system that was originally installed 36 years ago. It addresses many of the outstanding concerns with the existing system, including those presented by the COVID-19 situation. It allows us to manage the audio, visual and streaming all in one platform, rather than piecing together different systems, and it sets us up for the modern audio visual system that will serve us into the future.”
The sound system was first installed in 1984, and received a major upgrade in 2006. Since then, the City has made upgrades in 2008, 2015 and 2019. The current system provides audio for individuals viewing the meeting from the foyer, and for viewers on Shaw Cable.
Administration has listed 10 areas that need upgrading, seven of which will be addressed in 2021 as part of the $140,000 package. The other upgrades are planned for 2022. Bear said they’re hoping to have an RFP available for approval at the next regular council meeting.
Mayor Greg Dionne said the new system was costly, but viewed it as a necessity to conducting business in the modern era.
“We have to move into 2021,” Dionne said during the meeting. “We have to be able to livestream….. At the end of the day, we’ve been arguing for years that we want the public to have more access. Well, this is certainly going to give the public more access in quite different ways.”
Other councillors said the new system will help keep everyone safe too. Previous audio setups used during the first wave of the pandemic were abandoned because councillors who did not attend the meetings in person had difficult hearing and communicating with those who did.
Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp said that puts councillors in a difficult position. She views the upgrade as a way to solve the problem.
“It’s likely we will all have situations where we have to self-isolate for reasons that are not within our control and we want democracy to still be able to move forward and have our constituents heard,” Lennox-Zepp said during the meeting. “We don’t want to be in a bad position where we have to decide, am I healthy enough to sit in this chair, or do I not get to vote on an important issue to the public?”
“We want democracy to still be able to move forward and have our constituents heard and be able to be voting and doing our job,” she added. “We don’t want to be in a bad position where we have to decide, am I healthy enough to sit in this chair, or do I not get to vote on an important issue to the public.”
Not all councillors were enthused with the idea of creating more online options. Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski said there’s no doubt it’s beneficial, but it’s also expensive. He suggested the City look at new ways to recuperate some of those funds.
““This compulsion to push everything online, I think, needs every once and a while a little dose of reality,” he said. “While it’s convenient, it does cost money.”
The City plans to pay for the new equipment using funds that would have covered staff trips to canceled conventions and meetings. Zurakowski said council members and the public need to think about whether this issue is important enough to warrant spending all of those savings.