LACONIA — The chairman of the fist city board scheduled to conduct an online meeting says he is confident that the meeting will go smoothly, and further he is optimistic that the technology that will allow remote input could, in the long run, lead to greater public participation in government affairs.
“We’re the first attempt by the city to hold a public meeting, and possibly a public hearing,” Peter Brunette said, referring to the Planning Board meeting scheduled to take place next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The meeting, like all municipal meetings during the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, will be held using the Zoom teleconferencing platform to allow the public to listen to and participate in meetings, according to information posted Wednesday on the city’s website.
“Using this platform, you will be able to both see and hear the meeting and have the opportunity to speak during any public portions of the meeting,” states the instructions explaining how the public can access meetings online.
“This could be one of the untold benefits of the COVID-19 crisis,” Brunette said. “It could increase the public participating in the business of government.”
Brunette noted that many people are unable to attend meetings — like the Planning Board or the City Council — in person. But if they can not only observe the meetings but also give input and comments from home or some other remote location they might take more of an active interest.
Brunette expects he will be the only board member who will be seated at the table in the City Council Chambers where the board’s meetings are held. All the other members will be participating from their homes or offices. One or two members of the Planning Department staff will be in the meeting room, he added. One of them will be controlling the equipment used to televise the proceedings.
In addition to being on Zoom, the meeting will, as usual, be carried on Lakes Region Public Access Channel 26, and in addition will be live-streamed on YouTube.
Those without access to a computer or smartphone can still access the meeting using a traditional telephone by dialing the number provided on the meeting agenda and entering the Webinar ID number when prompted.
Brunette complimented members of the Planning Department staff and the city’s information technology people for setting up the infrastructure that will be used for the remote meetings. He also said the guidance from Gov. Chris Sununu’s office dealing with the legalities of remote meetings was extremely helpful.
In order to ensure compliance with social distancing guidelines, applicants will come to the meeting room one at a time to make their presentations and answer questions from members of the board.
There are three items on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. The proposal likely to draw the most interest is the plan to construct 32 condominium units on land now occupied by Barton’s Motel at 1330 Union Ave.
To make sure everything goes smoothly at Tuesday’s meeting, Brunette said he will have all board members log onto the Zoom site one hour before the meeting starts so they can acquaint themselves with the various features and controls, including how to turn their microphones on and off.
Once the meeting is convened at 7 p.m. Brunette will begin by reading instructions for the benefit of those members of the public who are watching or listening via a telephone hookup to Zoom.
“I’m going to have to ask people who are participating to mute their mics unless they are talking,” Brunette said.
The one unknown is whether there will be any technical difficulties during the public hearings, when members of the public have the opportunity to make comments.
If the public is unable to communicate through their computer or phone hookup, the meeting will have to be adjourned until such time at the problem is fixed, Brunette said.
“I think it’s going to work,” Brunette said.