Council OKs video meetings

Apr. 3—HIGH POINT — The City Council has given its OK for High Point to begin video broadcasts of its meetings for the first time ever.

The council approved a $164,758 expenditure to add video equipment to its meeting chambers and a conference room at City Hall. This money will come from the city's general fund balance and be paid to a vendor called Clark Powell in Winston-Salem, under a proposal from the company.

The city says this vendor has worked with staff for several years on the audio broadcast equipment that was installed for council meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposal calls for the installation of three cameras in the council chambers so that video broadcasts can be shown on the city's Channel 8 on Spectrum cable TV and through streaming services.

The council also approved a request from staff to create a new city position in the budget that takes effect July 1 to operate the video production equipment at meetings and capture video at other city events.

The new position will cost approximately $99,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to the city.

The vote to approve the expenditures was 8-1, with Councilman Britt Moore approved.

"While I appreciate all that our professionals in this department do for us, I think that this project is an overshoot at this particular time," Moore said. "I think we do a pretty good job of transparency and getting our word out. I know there are other cities that are doing this, but that doesn't always mean that's where we need to go too."

Mayor Cyril Jefferson said he thinks video broadcasts can get more residents "engaged in what's happening in High Point," patronizing businesses in the city and contributing more volunteer service to their communities.

"We heard that as a resounding call and concern during the election — that people felt

disconnected. They want to get reconnected. And they feel that, in the 21st century, 2024, there are opportunities to do that in a digital way," he said.

The City Council will update its public comment policy for meetings to take potential video broadcasts into account.

A council committee on Wednesday recommended approving funding to enable the city to show public meetings at City Hall on television and other video outlets for th er.

City Attorney Meghan Maguire advised the committee that the council's current public comment policy might need to be adjusted to consider recent trends.

"There's a trend across the country of people using public comment period for viral moments," she said, where speakers use the opportunity "just to have their moment of their First Amendment right to say anything they want, which may or may not be relevant or appropriate. We have to consider what our policy is for entertaining those and allowing those to go on."

Councilwoman Amanda Cook said supports adding video to meetings and would not want the comment policy to be overly strict, so it discourages people from speaking.

"For me, personally, having a visual image of what the room even looks like is the first step toward somebody coming and participating in our local government," she said.

The city started audio streaming its council meetings on its YouTube channel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upgrading to video would allow streaming on all of the city's digital platforms and expand viewing options to other formats, including the city's Channel 8 on Spectrum cable TV.

City staff told the committee it would cost $164,758 for the necessary equipment to implement video coverage.

In addition, staff said providing video broadcasts would require creating a new city position at a cost of about $99,000 a year in salary and benefits.

The committee recommended that the council approve both expenditures and update the comment policy.