The San Diego City Council chambers. 

Jul 22 2020

San Diego City Council Will Upgrade Chamber’s Tech

The council is aiming to make it easier for citizens to interact with its members through technology.

Government agencies large and small have had to adapt in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including by using technology to move official meetings online

As agencies plan for their long-term needs and wrestle with the notion that the current pandemic-induced changes will last for a significant period of time, they are investing in meeting technology that will carry them into the future. 

That’s what is happening in Southern California, where the San Diego City Council is planning a large-scale technology upgrade to its chamber. The overall goal, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune, is to “boost public participation and solve some problems caused by the shift to virtual meetings” during the pandemic. 

Although the upgrades were planned before the pandemic, recent civil unrest and national protests, the events of the past few months have prompted the council to make some changes to its IT enhancements. City Clerk Elizabeth Maland, who is leading the overhaul, tells the Union-Tribune the key aim of the upgrades is to make it easier for the public to interact with the council in engaging ways. 

“It’s really focused on access to the government,” she says. “It’s about what the next step is in the interaction between the public and the government.” 

San Diego City Council to Get a Major IT Overhaul

The enhancements will include “new lighting, a new sound system, modernized video displays and an upgraded voting system for the council,” the Union-Tribune reports.

The newspaper adds that “Other potential changes may include creating a virtual ‘green room’ for people giving call-in testimony to streamline the process, and a countdown clock so people watching the meetings know when a speaker will be done testifying.” 

Additionally, under the new system, members of the public will be able to bring videos, charts or other items to present during their testimony to the council. Currently, those multimedia pieces must be submitted to Maland in advance of testimony, according to the Union-Tribune.

Closed captioning of meetings will be displayed on a screen at the front of the chambers instead of one at the rear of the room, as it is organized now. The upgrades will also include new headphones for people who are hearing-impaired.

The city hopes to finish the renovations during the council’s August recess, but some of the work might be delayed until December, Maland says.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how agencies can use technology to broadcast meetings more effectively.

There have been clear growing pains as the council shifted to remote meetings during the pandemic, with citizens struggling to know when to call into meetings to provide testimony and when to start speaking. The current system, which was installed in 2005, is also aging and in need of an upgrade

“We have been able to keep the system functional, but it is limited,” Maland says. 

Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute, tells StateTech that state and local government bodies should provide video tutorials on how to access virtual meetings and have IT support on hand to troubleshoot problems. He notes that users are likely not as technologically sophisticated as IT staff or some government officials. Agencies also should put their meetings on technology platforms that are easy to use and can be accessed via smartphones and tablets.

Bengt Nyman/Flickr, Creative Commons