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North Adams Council Begins Streaming to Facebook
Staff Reports,
06:24PM / Tuesday, November 16, 2021
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The Owl streaming system captures two images: one stationary 360 degree view and an active image that focuses on speakers. The system is expected to be used Tuesday night for the tax classification hearing.


The Owl looks like a large microphone. It swivels to track voices. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — You can now watch the City Council via Facebook thanks to a new piece of technology that's been added to council chambers. 
 
Last week's meeting was a test of the Owl Pro system, which allows for recording and streaming in real time. 
 
Councilor Benjamin Lamb pointed out the "white tower" that looks like a giant microphone in the middle of the room at last week's meeting. 
 
"Several of us on council have been raising the issue and need for us to provide more accessibility to public meetings here in the city by leveraging virtual technology," he said. "In today's digital age, there is no reason that the public shouldn't be able to view and or access recordings of our meetings beyond watching limited selection on public access television."
 
The need for greater access became apparent during the height of the pandemic as local governments across the region struggled to adapt to virtual platforms such as Zoom and Google Meetup. What at first seemed an obstacle was soon seen as a way to reach constituents who would not normally have traveled to town and city halls or who had no cable to access public television channels. 
 
How to close that gap once boards and commissions began meeting in person again has been a topic of conversation across the region. 
 
"The accessibility we have seen through Zoom over the past 18 months is prone to decrease," Lamb said. "Additionally, as many residents in the city don't actually have Spectrum, but instead rely on streaming online services, there's a significant gap in account accessibility for the public to know about the machinations of City Council as well as city boards, commissions and committees that hold public meetings."
 
Lamb said collaborative efforts between the mayor's office, the information technology department and the city clerk's office resulted in the purchase of the Owl System. 
 
The mobile meeting camera can be used to broadcast all public meetings to social media. At the moment, it's going to the city's Facebook page but there are plans to also stream to YouTube. 
 
The tower pivots 360 degrees to whoever is speaking. There are two cameras that are operating simultaneously — one is a stationary 360 degree view of the room and the other track voices and focuses on the speaker. There were some audio issues last week but the councilors were also all wearing masks as required in City Hall.
 
The video is a bit blurry because of the low resolution, Lamb explained, to allow it to move. It does capture audio up to 16 feet away. 
 
The entire setup cost about $3,000.
 
"I just wanted to thank the mayor for making the investment in the system but then also for folks that have really put it into play and will continue to keep it up going and operational for everyone to use," Lamb said. 
 
A lot of testing was done to work out the kinks, he added. On Tuesday, the system was being operated by Assistant City Clerk Marcus Lyon because it does run through a laptop. 
 
Council President Lisa Blackmer asked if an operator would be needed for committee and other board meetings. Lamb responded that it would require some training and that would probably be for chairs.
 
"This is an important step in ensuring that members of our community are able to be more engaged in local decision making and improving accessibility meeting public concern," Lamb said. 
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