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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission weighs virtual, phone attendance at meetings

The Linn County Commission on Tuesday discussed the advantages and pitfalls of planning commission members attending meetings remotely. (Wix file photo)


By Charlene Sims, info@linncountyjournal.com


MOUND CITY – Information Technology (IT) Director Chris Martin met with the Linn County Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 20, seeking answers to his questions on virtual meeting attendance before setting up videoconferencing using Zoom (zoom.com) for the county’s planning and zoning commission meetings.


After much discussion, the commissioners asked County Counselor Gary Thompson and Martin to get together to develop a policy that the commission could vote on at its Feb. 26 meeting.


The issue of Zoom attendance for planning commissioners first surfaced after Commissioner Danny McCullough told a recently appointed planning commission member he could attend by Zoom. That member is frequently out of town during the week and only accepted the position if he could attend remotely.


Because multiple platforms would have to be integrated into the system, Martin asked if Zoom was going to be the only means of attendance. 


The commissioners agreed that Zoom would be the only platform that would be used.


Martin asked if the commissioners wanted to require that remote voting participants be seen on video, and the commissioner said they did. 


Commissioner Jim Johnson said if the commission member could not be seen, they should not be allowed to vote.


Martin asked who was going to be the person in charge of the Zoom meetings. For example, who would tell the Zoom participant that they needed to mute or unmute.


The commissioners thought that it should be the chair of the meeting.


Martin asked if the commissioners wanted the participants to be to be shown on the large screen in the annex room.


Commission Chair Jason Hightower said that by having participants on the screen, that would allow everybody to know who was participating. 


Martin said they would also be put on a small window on the live stream to show the audience. That has been a feature added over the past couple of weeks.


Martin asked how executive sessions would be handled. He explained that, in a remote environment, whoever is in the room with the participant cannot be controlled. He also indicated there could be problem if the participant was recording the meeting.


Thompson said that one option would be to leave the remote attendee out of the executive session so those problems do not occur. 


Hightower asked about the strategics of moving the Zoom session to the other room, and Martin said that was a technical issue. 


McCullough suggested they could attend by phone, and Johnson said he was good with that. 


The same issues of confidentiality likely would exist in the executive session when a person participates remotely by phone – who is in the room with them and whether they are recording the conversation.


Martin recommended that for executive session, if a person attended by phone, it should be through the county’s landline not a private phone. Hightower agreed and said that the sound also was much better on the landline.


Thompson recommended that it would be appropriate to have a motion adding those clarifications to the county’s policy. 


McCullough brought up more concerns, asking if a participant should be limited to how many times they can attend by Zoom rather than be in attendance by person. He questioned whether a person, after missing so many meetings in-person, should be allowed to vote. He was concerned that everybody would do Zoom every single meeting.


McCullough said that the very first meeting that the ad hoc committee earlier this winter had three or four people who did not attend. He suggested they would have rather attended via Zoom.


Hightower said he understood what McCullough was saying and he thought that changes could be made after the commission saw how things were going. 


Hightower reminded the commissioners that was his argument for people not to use Zoom for the meetings. But since the commission had voted to allow people participating through Zoom, that they should go ahead and see what the problems were and address those problems as they arose. 


County Clerk David Lamb wanted clarification for the minutes that the Zoom option was only available for the planning and zoning commission. Hightower said he thought so.


Martin asked if the commissioners might want to use this if one commissioner had to be absent or would the same logic not apply to other meetings held in the annex. 


The commissioners agreed to have a policy prepared that covered all boards meeting in that room.   

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