Sylvan Township is prioritizing the virtual option for meetings

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Here's an example of the Meeting Owl, on the tripod, at work. photo from the Owl Labs/Meeting Owl website

As it gets back to hosting in-person meetings, Sylvan Township is hoping to improve its ability to continue to offer a virtual viewing option for the community.

January 11 marked the first in-person meeting for the Sylvan Township Board in nearly two years. There were the five board members present as well as six people in the public in attendance at the meeting. There was also the use of Zoom with a big screen facing the board and its connection set up on a table to allow viewing for those at home.

One agenda item during the meeting saw the board have some initial discussion about upgrading meeting technology, and possibly doing that through the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.

Sylvan Township Supervisor Kathleen Kennedy said they are looking to invest a little bit of money to allow a better hybrid flow that will work for everyone involved.

Kennedy said in talking with the township attorney, they might also be able to use ARPA funds.

Improving virtual viewing capabilities for governmental meetings might be viewed as a post-COVID pandemic issue in that some residents probably want to continue to connect virtually, which was and is a popular option.

Kennedy said they are now in a searching mode for different options and could have a wide range of price tags, from the hundreds of dollars to potentially up to $5,000 for a whole room set up.

Noting one option, she said township planning commissioner chairman David Seitz told her about the Meeting Owl and his experience with it.

According to its website, the Meeting Owl is a 360-degree camera, microphone, and speaker combined into one easy-to-use device that creates the experience of in-person participation for hybrid teams and integrates seamlessly with the conferencing platforms you already use.

It has an automatic zoom that responds to who’s speaking and a single speaker with 12-foot audio pickup radius.

In looking to the board about doing an upgrade, Kennedy said she thinks they can agree this would be a wise use of funds.

Currently, the township is using Zoom and Kennedy said it works well, but the technology the township is using has its limitations, which are already apparent in the short time of having in-person meetings. One issue is that it’s not easy to visually capture everyone sitting at the main table and there are some issues hooking the laptop up with the TV screen which is a bit older. Virtual viewers also cannot see the public comment speakers, who are in person, during the meeting.

Kennedy said they will probably continue to use Zoom as its platform, but with new technology.

Sylvan has over $300,000 in ARPA funds.

No decisions were made, but it’s expected the board will take a serious look at options during an upcoming meeting.

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