City Council looks at videoconferencing in meetings

By Stephen Burnett
Community Impact Newspaper
Originally published May 14, 2014

Cedar Park City Council on May 8 discussed how to address legal requirements and technical challenges that would impede City Council members from joining special-called meetings remotely by video.

Place 3 Councilman Lyle Grimes said he supports Cedar Park pursuing the idea once the city has an estimate for equipment costs. Place 5 Councilman Jon Lux said City Council may want to wait until another government tries the method first.

“Being on the leading edge is always expensive,” Lux said.

Assistant City Manager Josh Selleck said that if City Council wants to explore the concept, city staffers recommend the city determine the cost of equipment that also complies with requirements from the Texas Department of Information Resources, which oversees management of state and local governments’ information and communications technologies. He said staffers also recommend City Council work with an attorney to create rules and protocols for videoconferencing in meetings.

Two Texas Legislature bills passed last year—House Bill 2414 and Senate Bill 984—regulate videoconferencing in meetings that are subject to open-records law, such as City Council. The bills are in some ways inconsistent, yet a city council needs to comply with both sets of rules, Selleck said.

City staffers researched how other governing board members meet electronically, such as the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. But PEC’s directors can call in by phone and not video, and the board is not subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act, Selleck said.

In accordance with both state laws, a meeting that some city council members attend by video must have a primary meeting location in the state where members are physically present to form a quorum. Selleck said organizers must ensure the site is open to the public. At the meeting, members of the public must be able to join in and be seen and heard on the video feed as easily as City Council members, he said.

City staffers discussed technical challenges with the Texas Municipal League, Selleck said. The city must keep the video streaming during the entire meeting to ensure compliance with both state laws. A lost video connection would force City Council to recess for up to six hours until the link is restored. Without a restored connection the meeting would be have to be adjourned, he said.

Selleck said City Council also needs to establish meeting protocols to address the possibilities of video feed lag and crosstalk.

Mayor Matt Powell said he has enjoyed using video to attend classes. Video helps an offsite participant communicate by hearing as well as seeing other attenders, he said.

“I would like to see us proceed with getting a cost estimate on it,” Powell said. “But I would encourage the staff to be creative with this.”