The Marblehead Article 44 Committee members discussed consolidating and regulating all the town’s public meetings to a half-dozen municipal buildings with hybrid-meeting capabilities on Thursday morning.
The study group, known as the Article 44 Committee, was established when the Town Meeting adopted the-then town moderator Gary Spiess’ motion for its formation on the Town Meeting floor in May. His recommendation that a study committee be established arrived after resident Lynn Nadeau, who now sits on the study group, withdrew her citizens petition (Article 44), calling for “all town boards and committees to full implement best practices…governing remote participation by ensuring the use of hybrid meeting platforms at all public meetings.”
The municipal buildings that the group singled out included the following:
- The Mary Alley Municipal Building, 7 Widger Road
- Abbot Hall, 188 Washington St.
- The Marblehead Municipal Light Department, 80 Commercial St.
- Abbot Public Library, 235 Pleasant St.
- Marblehead High School, 2 Humphrey St.
- Jacobi Community Center, 10 Humphrey St.
These pubic buildings are accessible to people with disabilities, and, with the exception of the Jacobi Community Center, have seen hybrid meetings staged in them. They are also the most frequently utilized buildings by the 40 boards, commissions and committees in Marblehead, according to a spreadsheet that the Marblehead Select Board’s executive assistant, Kyle Wiley, compiled for the Article 44 committee.
The committee wants to not only assess what technological capabilities, hybrid-meeting-wise, exist in each municipal building but also what it would take to outfit them with such capabilities. Committee member Laurie Blaisdell brought up the question of having uniform equipment and software in each municipal building.
“We’re looking for Wi-Fi in all these places. What are we looking for? And we’re looking for consistency in equipment?” said Blaisdell. “Like, is it OK to have just a laptop? Or do we want an Owl at every meeting? We have to decide what kind of equipment we want.”
Committee members turned down Lynn Nadeau’s motion to expand their membership to a ninth member, one with technical expertise. Instead, members, including Nadeau, OK’d Katharine Redmond’s motion to invite Abbot Public Library Executive Director Kimberly Grad to educate them on costs around implementing technology hybrid-meeting capabilities.
Grad told Marblehead News her department invested in Polycom Studio equipment, permitting the Abbot Public Library of Board of Trustees meetings to be in-person and remote. Meanwhile, the Marblehead Finance Committee and the Marblehead Board of Health have both utilized an Owl Labs’ 3, “an immersive hybrid meeting experience in any space with a 360 degree camera, mic, and speaker,” for their meetings. They retail for a little over $1,000 and require Wi-Fi, software and electricity.
Other costs tied to implementing hybrid to be explored:
- Maintenance and operating costs of technology equipment
- Keeping buildings open longer to accommodate public meetings
Members’ analysis and research over the next couple months will help inform their recommendations, both monetarily and policywise, to be packaged in a warrant article for Marblehead Town Meeting’s consideration.
Members are getting started as pending legislation sits atop Beacon Hill that targets remote, hybrid participation. What might emerge in state law could complicate members’ work as they carry out their charge with the end goal of producing a findings report and their recommendations.