As municipalities, and governmental and non-profit organizations are quickly adapting to hosting their public meetings remotely, there is no shortage of software platforms they can choose to use. Whether it’s Zoom, GoToMeeting, RingCentral, or another software, every group is deciding what works best for their comfort level and their budgets.
On May 13th, Rockingham Planning Commission (RPC) held a public hearing on Amendment 4 to the 2019 Transportation Improvement Program using PublicInput.com. RPC already uses the software for their community engagement efforts, such as distributing surveys. In response to the current pandemic, they are now taking advantage of PublicInput.com’s new virtual meeting tool where a Zoom Meeting can be embedded within its Internet framework. This interface helps minimize Zoom-bombing or other disruptive efforts that have happened during other public meetings around the state.
Only RPC’s Commissioners and staff had access to the Zoom Meeting link, where they had the ability to mute their microphones and share their screens.
To ensure there was adequate public access, there was a separate link through PublicInput.com, where members of the public could view and listen to the meeting, much like watching Public Access television on your computer screen. On the same page where they could watch the meeting, the public could also submit comments to the Commission through a chat box. The hearing was also streamed on YouTube to allow better access to those who rely on smartphones and to provide closed captioning options for those with hearing disabilities.
To provide access to the public who may not have Internet access, members of the public could call into the meeting and leave a voicemail message during the meeting that was transcribed to the meeting host in real time.
Over the course of the hearing, Commission Chair Barbara Kravitz and Executive Director Tim Roache, kept reiterating how the public could give comments and ways they could reach the RPC staff if they were having technical issues (by providing a phone number and email address, which was also posted on their website). Other RPC staff monitored the chat box to ensure public comments were brought to the attention of the Commissioners and to manage anyone having technical difficulties.
The PublicInput.com interface has demarcated tabs for the public to view the public hearing and to list the public notice along with any other supporting documentation. RPC also included a quick poll to assess the quality of the audio and video feed from the public, while also providing a form for members of the public to sign up for future updates about the topic of the public hearing.
Reflecting on the experience, Executive Director Tim Roache said, ““It wasn’t flawless but overall we are really pleased with how it went. I was really pleased to receive public comments during our hearing and be able to document those comments for the record. We have gotten some great feedback from our commissioners and the public which will allow us to improve the experience for all users at future hearings.”