If you tune into a Farmington Hills city council meeting, you’ll hear elected officials’ voices, but you won’t see their faces.
Now several council members want to add video, while others want a return to in-person meetings.
Council member Jackie Boleware on Monday asked that video be added, a request she also made at a July meeting. She said the blank screen may be a problem for residents who are hard of hearing or otherwise don’t do well just listening.
“I think that’s something we really need to look at,” she said, adding that many neighboring cities are showing video.
Council member Michael Bridges asked who made the decision to forgo video, as council members weren’t consulted.
Mayor Vicki Barnett explained the decision was made by city staff when meetings went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as “the easiest way, the safest way, and the most secure way” to broadcast.
Officials began with teleconferencing and later switched to Zoom, a videoconferencing platform with documented security issues.
During a July 27 meeting, council members were “Zoom-bombed,” with obscene photos dropped into their screens. In addition, a couple of speakers made obscene comments that were broadcast live.
Barnett and council member Jackie Boleware both said they’re still reluctant to meet in person. Barnett said she has a compromised immune system; Boleware has lost family members to COVID-19.
“I am concerned about the uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Detroit area,” Barnett said. “We are on track to be one of the next spikes… I am very concerned about my health, and my husband’s health, and your health, and anybody who comes to a meeting and is not socially distant.”
Meet in person, safely
Mayor Pro Tem Valerie Knol pushed in July and again on Monday for in-person meetings. She said Sterling Heights city council members are meeting in a community center, where officials and the audience are all in seats six feet apart with masks required.
“They have hand sanitizer up at the microphone,” she said. “When anyone comes up to speak… they can disinfect the microphone for the next person. There are ways to do this safely. It is just very hard to have study sessions and actually have candid conversations and invite in the public.”
Council member Ken Massey agreed, saying officials “do the work of the people best” when meeting in person.
Barnett suggested that officials try adding video during an upcoming study session. Because residents also do not see presentation materials during meetings, she said anyone interested can receive emailed council packets. To sign up, write to City Clerk Pam Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can listen to the August 10 meeting here: