AVALON – Since March 2018, resident Martha Wright has been bringing her iPhone tripod to Avalon Borough Council meetings, recording and posting them to a Facebook page, distributing the link to residents.
By her count, Wright recorded 56 council meetings, along with 32 Planning and Zoning Board meetings. Her reason: The borough’s governing body consistently refused to allow remote video access to its meetings.
However, that changed May 12.
With a split 4-to-1 vote of the council, with Councilwoman Nancy Hudanich in the negative, the council approved a six-month trial of livestreaming governing body meetings.
Split votes in Avalon are not the rule. Generally, items do not make it to the agenda, unless there is a broad consensus at work sessions when the item is discussed. The issue of providing video remote access was a bone of contention for the last few years.
Council President John McCorristin favored the idea but has never had the votes. Hudanich argued against it, calling it more of a distraction than a help in the public’s understanding of council deliberations.
The health emergency, in 2020, forced the council to adopt some form of remote access. The technology employed was telephone conferencing.
Meanwhile, neighboring Stone Harbor improved on its existing video recording of meetings by going to a full-screen view of the meeting room, with Zoom format controls allowing direct access for public comments and questions.
Many Avalon residents asked for something similar, claiming the telephone’s audio quality was often poor, and they were denied the opportunity to see exhibits during council presentations.
The experiment’s timing, set to begin in July, coincides with Hudanich’s retirement from the council after 32 years of service to the borough. Video access will proceed, but she will not be part of the trial.
The arguments against livestreaming, expressed, in part, by Councilwoman Barbara Juzaitis, as well as Hudanich, centered on the claim that the borough is already fully transparent in its public business.
The heavy use by the borough of its website for information dissemination, the attention paid to publishing information on social media, and regular presentations to the borough’s homeowner association were pointed to as evidence of transparency.
For those who urged an upgrade to what one resident caller termed “21st-century technology,” the issue was real-time access to events, rather than reliance on filtered posts selective on the topic they cover.
The recent settlement of litigation by a borough employee was used as an example of something that didn't make it to the borough’s website or social media posts.
The borough’s schedule of council meetings, at 4 p.m., was also part of the argument for remote access since the time makes it difficult for working residents who may wish to attend.
McCorristin expressed a desire for borough residents to see “the excellent presentations made to council.” The current inability of residents who participate remotely to see charts, PowerPoint slides, or artist renderings is a shortcoming that many feel needs to be addressed.
Avalon’s experiment will not incorporate interactive access. Those wishing to comment remotely will still need to call the borough's phoneline.
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