Watching Manteca City Council meetings on Comcast Cable Channel 97 can often be an exercise in futility.
You can see images but sometimes you can’t hear anything. And then there are times when the audio is clear but you can’t tell who is talking as the camera is focused on someone else. The 1987 video system is just showing its age.
It isn’t much better at times being a member of the actual audience.
The 25-year-old sound system often fades in and out prompting those in the audience to shout out “we can’t hear.” And if there are graphics or charts being shown on a screen, it is difficult at best for many to see them from their seats.
Then there is the issue of handicapped access for the audience as well as council members and staff.
“It’s not a good situation” noted Mayor Willie Weatherford.
The City Council has made upgrading the audio visual as well as handicapped access issues a priority among spending projects for 2013.
Staff is currently working with a council committee to identify deficiencies and to put together a package of improvements.
The mayor, for his part, believes the chambers should be “leveled out” much like the old Valley Cinema complex on North Main Street was to accommodate the casino. Not only would that address slope issues for those in wheelchairs or using walkers, but it would also eliminate another concern of Weatherford’s.
“I don’t like the fact that people have to look up at us,” Weatherford said. “It is almost like we’re making them address the Supreme Court. We should be down at their eye level.”
City Clerk Joann Tilton said staff has learned making the council chambers compliant to the American Disabilities Act for a public meeting place has to start in the parking lot all the way through the door.
Currently doors may not be the proper size for new standards. Neither door accessed by the public opens automatically via a button at wheelchair level. There also may be issues with the slope of the sidewalk leading up to the chambers.
Tilton said one goal is to get state-of-the-art video equipment in place that would enhance the cable presentation as well as the live streaming over the Internet of meetings. They also hope to have stationary cameras in place instead of ones that must be moved to allow for one operator to effectively run the entire system and provide proper feed to cable and web audiences.
More than one multi-media screen is being considered plus the ability for the council and staff to follow agenda reports on items being discussed using laptops or tablets. At the same time, staff reports could also be projected on multi-media screens for the audience to see.
“Of course, council members would have the choice of whether they wanted paper documents or to use a tablet,” Tilton said.
Tilton noted staff also wants to wire areas outside the chambers in hallways to allow overflow crowds to listen and see what is going on inside. In the past such as during the cantankerous meetings over the Big League Dream sports complex when it was originally proposed for Woodward Park as many as 70 people had to try to follow what was going on inside by crowding around one TV monitor set up in the hallway.
What prompted the push for the council chambers makeover was first and foremost a desire by the council to make sure the public can actually hear what is going and see documents that the council does.
A report is expected to come back to the council in the coming months on what is needed and the cost.