The Raleigh City Council chamber’s video presentation system has been upgraded and along with the new hardware— including six new projector screens set up throughout the chamber and a touch-screen annotation system— there are some new rules.
Not everyone’s happy about them.
On the District B Facebook page
yesterday morning, newly-seated Councilman David Cox posted a link to the city’s online announcement of an updated video presentation system, which Cox called “new restrictions on citizens presentations to Council that I am not convinced we need or should have.”
The new video presentation system is designed to provide better video quality and more options for members of the public to utilize to make presentations, but, due to what the city web post
describes as “security concerns,” citizens who want to present electronic material before the council will have to submit their electronic files by 5 p.m. the Thursday before a Tuesday council meeting “for review.” Any files presenters want to bring to meetings that aren’t reviewed beforehand won’t be loaded for use in the future, and “no other computers, players or other presentation devices may be hooked up to the new presentation system FOR ANY REASON,” the web post states.
“It’s a whole new system that will provide a much better experience for those who attend meetings, and for council members as well,” says Damien Graham, public affairs director for the city of Raleigh. “It’s in no way trying to discourage anyone from using presentations.” Graham says the new guidelines give city staff two business days to check presentations for bugs and to get back to presenters with any problems. “Hopefully it will speed up or make the meeting experience more seamless, so there’s not any fidgeting in real time and you can see and hear everything from everywhere in the room.”
But Cox, a citizen activist before his election to the council as well as a technology professional, says the new rules are problematic because they don’t give members of the public as much time to prepare their presentations, or as much flexibility while they’re presenting. Cox says there are other ways to mitigate the threats that viruses or malware programs pose to the city’s network and equipment.
“To me it seems like it would present a problem to citizens who are not working on these kinds of things as professionals, who do it in their spare time and on the weekend,” Cox says. “With PowerPoint, you have a whole slew of slides, and as you refine your presentation you can make changes and take out slides that were never meant to be presented. Now, you’d have to be careful about making sure you have edited slides appropriately and only turned in exactly the material you plan to use.”
Cox says he is also concerned about the language that requires members of the public to turn in their presentations “for review,” and disagrees with explicitly prohibiting citizens from connecting their own devices—laptops, flash drives, tablets with video output—to the city’s projector. “With the new technology, I would have liked to have seen devices set up so people could easily plug in a laptop or tablet and project from those devices,” he says. “I want to see us use technology to facilitate citizen presentation.”
Graham says the guidelines were not designed to censure material contained in presentations, and that they’re in line with other cities’ best practices around public presentations to municipal governing bodies. “We felt like this was an appropriate first step to make,” he says. “We’ll make the new changes, staff members will be available to teach people how to use the new technology. And if it becomes a problem, we will work with the council and public to address the issues.”
The new guidelines will be in effect for the first city council meeting of the year on January 5. Cox said he has emailed city manager Ruffin Hall for an explanation of the rationale behind the new rules. “I want to talk about it and understand what the concerns are that led to these rules and then talk about moving forward,” he said. “I’m just taking a wait and see approach to see what the explanation is.”