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Town of Paradise Valley Contracts Intent Digital to Bring Order to Council Meetings

Town installs VoteLynx meeting management system to prepare for new laws requiring greater public access and transparency of information

 

In the old days, they would ring the bell in the town square. These days, getting people together for a town meeting takes technology. Anymore, meetings are all about monitors and microphones and switches and software for town clerks like Duncan Miller with Paradise Valley, Arizona, who is faced with fewer resources and the prospect of new legislature that could require municipalities to make meetings accessible and information transparent to the public.

Already several states, including Arizona, have passed laws requiring public access of open meetings and transparency of public records at the state level. Some believe it’s just a matter of time before towns and cities will be required to do the same.

What’s a town or city clerk to do?

Late last year, Miller contracted Digital Video Networks and Intent Digital, a Phoenix engineering firm that specializes in audiovisual and meeting management systems, to develop an integrated solution for automating meetings and electronic documentation. “The main goal of this project was transparency and communication with residents, which required electronic documentation as well as meeting management and video streaming of council meetings,” said Miller, whose background as a town clerk didn’t prepare him for the parade of hardware, software and media technology needed for a comprehensive system.

Such systems are a convergence of technologies, with microphones and cameras on the one hand, and encoders, timers and audio video switching networks on the other. They require conferencing hardware, plus integrated software applications for visual presentations, roll calls, public speaker engagement, and overall management of all the theatrics and unpredictability of city council meetings.

As a small township with limited funds, Paradise Valley couldn’t afford to hire additional staff expert in audiovisual and meeting or voting management systems. “We didn’t want to have to hire a dedicated AV person sitting in a closet somewhere controlling all the equipment,” commented Miller.

“That’s a typical scenario for today’s municipalities, which are being hit with budget cuts and at the same time buckling under the weight of having to do more with less,” said Intent Digital’s co-founder and design engineer Bob Ginger. “We walk into these projects with the understanding that our systems need to be self-sustaining and able to operate under a variety of conditions and for operators at any skill level.

“Over the years, we’ve had to develop some powerful programming to get the usability and functionality needed of these systems,” he added, referring to the company’s Energize audiovisual control and VoteLynx meeting management systems.

For Paradise Valley, Intent Digital was able to bring together under one comprehensive system all automated meeting activities, electronic documentation and control for AV equipment. Key to the system’s ease of use is the integration of DataVideo’s SE-900 SD digital switcher and Intent Digital’s VoteLynx, an electronic voting and meeting management system that manages all the request-to-speak, meeting management and processing of data needed for town meetings, plus feeds content to be streamed on the town’s website.

The DataVideo SE-900 switcher is directly connected to the VoteLynx Request to Speak function, for example, so that when Miller cues a council member to speak, the system automatically selects a camera, sets up the camera shot and then when the shot is complete, automatically routes the results through the switcher for archiving or streaming without additional operator intervention.

Traditional setups require an additional switching panel that adds another layer of complexity to operator controls; tight integration of the VoteLynx management system and DataVideo SE-900 switcher puts these and other functions directly in front of the operator.

“I have one cool touch panel developed by Intent Digital where I can toggle back and forth between AV elements, and do roll calls, put up presentations, set speaker timers and handle all sorts of activities,” said Miller.

Through VoteLynx, which is also integrated to a documentation workflow system, Paradise Valley clerks can control five cameras plus audio as well as roll call, speaker engagement and other meeting activities from both the main meeting chamber as well as a smaller meeting room.

New dais monitors and microphones with infrastructure for future upgrades were installed, as well as 70-inch monitors for audience viewing and Lectrosonics ASPEN digital audio processors with Proportional Gain Algorithm (PGA) for seamless auto-mixing.

“Intent Digital really challenged us to think about what we wanted to accomplish. They weren’t afraid to make suggestions if they thought we were wrong, even going as far as to crawl under the table to find the junction boxes at our first meeting,” said Miller.

The result is a far cry from the old makeshift and make-do teleconferencing system, according to Miler, who was able to put the system to the test during an overcrowded event held in the town’s main council chambers recently. “We were able to easily set up the system to stream the event to a large overflow crowd in the smaller board room next door. We were lucky to have the system up and running just a few weeks prior, because without it, we would have had to turn a lot of our residents away for the event,” said Miller, who is confident that the town will be ready if, and when, it’s required to comply with new government public access and transparency laws.

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