Fort Worth City Council to implement video conferencing

Video conferencing — a technology that families, friends and businesses have been using for years — is coming to City Council meetings, allowing both residents and council members to participate remotely.

The council approved spending $235,269 on the technology, such as new video screens and broadcast equipment, at its meeting Tuesday.

Approved by the Legislature in the 2013 session for use at public meetings, the technology will enable residents to view and speak at council meetings from a publicly posted and predetermined location.

It will also allow council members to video conference into a meeting and still count toward a quorum, City Secretary Mary Kayser said during a presentation on the technology at last week’s pre-council meeting.

“My understanding of how it came about was to allow for remote town halls, particularly in large, spread out cities,” Mayor Betsy Price said.

“And also if you have a council member who is sick or has to travel, but really needs to be part of the meeting, this allows them the chance to be part of the meeting.”

Councilwoman Ann Zadeh emphasized that the purpose of the change is not “making it easy for us not to come down here physically.”

“The main thrust is allowing citizens to participate in more far-flung areas who wouldn’t necessarily come down to City Hall,” Zadeh said.

Council members and residents must be visible, and audio must be working for the process to be valid. City staff members will be in place to assist those at the remote location. A video screen will be added to the pre-council chambers; screens are already in place in the council chambers.

Council members could video conference into the meeting using a computer or tablet, said Eric Upchurch of the city’s information technology department. The technology will take about 90 days to implement and will include training for council members.

By Caty Hirst