Under COVID-19 lockdown, local governments turn to tech

Glenwood Springs city council met remotely Thursday, March 26, convening and broadcasting online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Screen shot/ YouTube / Zoom

Along with every other organization that can, local governments are moving public meetings online — and encountering 21st-century challenges.

“People are having a hard time staying connected because of all the demands on the cell and internet systems currently,” Garfield County Spokeswoman Renelle Lott said.

Garfield County commissioners are using a combination of systems, including streaming video platform Granicus, and conference lines for public comments, to maintain public engagement during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the added pressure on the streaming service and a hardware issue that predated the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., the county’s streaming system can be spotty.

There was also a technical hardware issue that came up that is unresolved, since the California factory that makes the replacement equipment has shut down due temporarily during the quarantine.

The way bandwidth is allocated is also shifting more to homes, causing some hiccups in service during video conference calls.

 “If you think about internet providers and where the traffic was concentrated at larger entities prior to this, it’s now from people’s homes,” Lott said.

“That changes the whole technical side of how streaming would be managed within the internet to some degree,” Lott said.

The county is far from the only local governing body that is working to adapt so they can continue necessary board and council meetings.

Glenwood Springs’ charter requires the council to meet at least twice a month, and while they canceled the March 19 meeting, they held a special meeting Thursday via Zoom, an online videoconferencing service.

“The public is still able to participate in that manner as well. It’s an evolving aspect for us at the moment, but we’re moving ahead with that plan,” said Hannah Klausman, spokeswoman for the city of Glenwood Springs.

“What I understand from Zoom is that it does have a pretty high capacity for meetings with up to 1,000 participants, and also the capacity for people to view it as well in a much higher number,” Klausman said.

Carbondale’s board of trustees won’t meet until April 14, but the town is looking at a similar combination of services.

“We are finalizing the technology and will be testing it to ensure the public can participate,” Carbondale Town Manager Jay Harrington said.

“At this point we are looking at a blend of Zoom and YouTube, when we finalize it we will be letting the public know how they can participate in our meetings,” Harrington said.

Carbondale and Glenwood Springs also have an additional hurdle in public business.

Ballots have already gone out for the April special election, which has not been postponed.

With town hall closed to the public, Carbondale advises everyone to vote soon and mail or drop off the ballots early.

“I am encouraging everyone to vote early and if they haven’t received a ballot by now to email or call me so a lot of people don’t show up on (April) 7,” Carbondale Town Clerk Cathy Derby said.  “We will only allow one person into town hall at a time on election day,” she said.

In addition to social distancing from the public, ballot counters will also take precautions against spreading or contracting COVID-19.

“My four judges will be spaced well over 6 feet apart and they will wear gloves at all times,” Derby said.

Glenwood Springs will also provide gloves, and distance the ballot counters by 6 feet for the April 14 election. The city will also allow only one person to enter the municipal building at a time.

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