Thank you, Sartell City Council member Steve Hennes, for pointing out to your council colleagues the importance of communicating with their constituents.
At the Sept. 8 meeting, Hennes said the council should do its part to help folks at home hear council business by speaking into their microphones during televised council meetings.
“We’re sending this out to the public,” Hennes said. “We should make sure the public can hear what we’re saying.”
Thank you, Mr. Hennes; we’d like to second that motion.
Hennes said he has heard complaints from a “number of people” about the poor to nonexistent sound from recorded city council meetings. The Newsleader, which has also heard complaints about the poor sound, has also voiced that concern to the city administrator and to at least two council members in the past.
Ironically, the Sept. 8 meeting, the one at which Hennes brought up the subject, was the worst council meeting for sound quality since the recorded meetings started five or six years ago.
Just about half of what was said could not be heard by people listening on their computers or TVs. Most of the voices were so very low in volume their words could not be understood. At times, voices could not be heard at all, period. What’s worse, annoying electronic feedback sounds at times drowned out what council members were saying.
Another sound problem is when someone speaks from the audience and is not reminded by the council to step up to the podium microphone. In that case, the at-home audience cannot hear the speaker at all.
During most meetings in the past, the sound quality of council meetings ranged all over the place from quite good at times (depending on who was speaking) to hit-and-miss, at best. Usually, members Hennes, Sarah Jane Nicoll and Amy Braig-Lindstrom can be heard very well. The others? Well, not so much. Of the staff, city administrator Mary Degiovanni can almost always be heard, as well as – usually – Anita Rassmussen and at times police chief Jim Hughes and public works director Brad Borders. Those who can rarely be heard are Mayor Joe Perske, council member David Peterson and city engineer Mike Nielson.
The wildly inconsistent sound quality might be caused by the relative heights of the speakers in relation to their desk microphones. Maybe it’s partly to do with flaws or glitches in the sound system itself.
But, whatever the cause, the problem is not only annoying, it is inexcusable in this day and age of supposedly high-tech sound. And it’s not just the Sartell Council. These sound problems are rampant, as anybody who attends public meetings well knows. At just about any meeting, there always seems to be a glitch, with the microphones not working or shutting off and on, off and on, or ear-splitting feedback.
Furthermore, it’s not just recordings of public meetings that can be inaudible. Sometimes, in winter especially, when meeting rooms are filled with people wheezing, sneezing and coughing, public officials cannot be heard, especially if they are leaning back in their chairs mumbling, nibbling on their fingers or talking into their hands.
To their credit, all of the current council members have always been gung-ho about the need to record and broadcast their meetings as a public service. They are aware many people cannot attend those meetings for one reason or another. However, it’s time those council members ask themselves: Why record and broadcast meetings if people cannot hear them, or hear only bits and pieces of them?
It’s time the council make an effort to find out what’s wrong with the city-hall sound system, if anything, and then make an effort to talk into their microphones. Their constituents would be most grateful.