Council goes high-tech with international meeting

City's IT director had hands full accommodating one councillor in Italy, the other in Hawaii.

Nanaimo’s council went high-tech Monday night to accommodate two councillors who wanted to participate in Monday’s meeting, but were in different parts of the world.

Coun. George Anderson was on vacation in Italy, while Coun. Bill Bestwick was visiting Hawaii. Both wanted to comment and vote on the city’s first corporate strategic plan, which passed unanimously after five months of public consultation.

To accommodate the elected officials, Per Kristensen, the city’s director of information and technology, used a polycom device to tie in both councillors’ phone calls to the Shaw Auditorium’s speaker system.

Kristensen said the bigger challenge was making sure Shaw TV, which broadcasts council meetings live on Channel 4, also had a clear audio feed.

“We were confident with the auditorium hookup but we were a little more concerned  about getting the audio to Shaw,” said Kristensen. “For a first effort it worked very well.”

Initially, Anderson and Bestwick came across a little garbled, but after turning the volume down, the connection was clear. Neither councillor stayed on the line for the entire meeting – both hung up after the strategic plan was discussed and passed.

The international conference call for a live televised meeting was a first for city hall. Both councillors phoned a toll-free conference call-in number from either their cellphone or hotel land line.

Kristensen’s team also had to consider broadcast delays. Anderson, who was also watching online, had an eight-second video delay, but only a half-second audio delay.

“We advised him to keep the audio on his computer muted so he didn’t get confused,” said Kristensen. “But timing was a challenge because George was on one side of the world and Bill was on the other.”

Anderson had another challenge – it was 4 a.m. in his time zone and he had a 7 a.m. departure scheduled to Switzerland. He also tweeted during the meeting.

Mayor John Ruttan jokingly asked Anderson how he managed to get everybody in the bistro to stay quiet for so long.

The city’s IT staff first tested the system last week to work out the bugs and ensure feedback was eliminated.

Kristensen said with the successful trial complete, it is likely the system will be used more in the future when needed.

“I believe this is a good step, with the next step being full video conferencing,” said Kristensen.

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