Officials will try to continue filming public meetings

Officials will try to continue filming public meetings

NORTH PROVIDENCE – With the state’s executive order allowing online public meetings set to expire this week, the town is preparing for a return to in-person meetings.

North Providence Communications Director Ralph Nahigian said officials are trying to train members of various boards and commissions to tape their own meetings and continue to post them on YouTube so a larger online audience found during the pandemic isn’t lost, but if that isn’t able to happen, that digital format will be lost in most cases.

Nahigian said he’s been sometimes taping up to five meetings per week, between various Town Council subcommittees and other boards and commissions, running Monday through Thursday, and the town has no plans to pay a technician to be at every meeting.

“What we’ve decided is to try to train them to turn on the computer and follow steps A, B and C to broadcast it, but if they can’t do it, then it’s not going to be,” he told The North Providence Breeze.

What the executive order expiring July 23 does is stop the denial of electronic meeting formats, as holding meetings in only an online setting is not regularly allowed, said Nahigian. That exemption from the rule will go away this week unless it is extended for a third straight month, which he has heard is unlikely.

John Marion, of Common Cause Rhode Island, said he too heard that the executive order requiring “adequate, alternative means” for meetings will not be renewed.

“So public meetings from that date forward will have to have all members of the body physically present,” he said. “They can still offer remote participation for the public, but they’re not required to do so.”

One board that will continue to have meetings broadcast online is the North Providence Town Council. Nahigian said it was nine months ago now that officials ordered upgrades to council chambers at Town Hall, and workers only showed up this week, showing the level of obstacles preventing many communities from having more accessible meetings with the right technology in place.

“You can’t get anything right now,” he said.

He said he believes that difficulty is part of the reason the General Assembly declined to approve a bill from state Rep. Alex Marszalkowski extending online meetings for two years.

“Lots of communities don’t have that,” he said of the upgrades being made to North Providence’s official center for town business.

When chamber upgrades are complete, said Nahigian, long-time observers will notice significant upgrades to the sound coming from those speaking at the lectern and council members at their seats.

In addition to new high-definition cameras, chambers are getting new microphones, a new amplifier system, and the capabilities for someone to come up to the stage with a laptop and be able to easily make a presentation on two screens at once.

The problem with ever-changing technology is that while the quality of video keeps getting better, it’s that much worse if one doesn’t implement the needed improvements to systems, said Nahigian.