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Carroll County municipalities going virtual for council meetings with help from Community Media Center

A screenshot of the first remote, livestream with the agenda in the middle and the Westminster councilmembers all speaking from home.
A screenshot of the first remote, livestream with the agenda in the middle and the Westminster councilmembers all speaking from home. (Courtesy Photo)

Carroll County municipalities are looking into virtual alternatives to hold their monthly mayor and council meetings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carroll County’s Community Media Center has been connecting with municipalities throughout Carroll to stream and distribute council meeting videos.

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“In this particular state in which they’re trying to operate under the emergency conditions, they’re looking at ways to be able to bring folks together,” said Richard Turner, executive director of the CMC.

The Community Media Center’s interest is in trying to continue to ensure that the municipality meetings are available on both cable TV and through other streaming platforms, according to Turner. He said previously that they rotate throughout the county, broadcasting, taping and posting a meeting from each municipality roughly once per quarter.

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Westminster was the first municipality in Carroll County to hold its council meeting virtually since the coronavirus restrictions and closures.

Westminster held its meeting last week via Zoom, a video communications website, with the mayor and council members all in different locations. The CMC worked with the city on the livestream and has posted the Zoom meeting on its website.

Carroll’s media center has reached out to all of the county’s municipalities to work with them.

“We basically sent out a request to them to let us know if they were interested because, of course, we have to work cooperatively with them. So we’re waiting to hear back from some of the other municipalities,” said Turner.

Other municipalities are also looking into holding virtual town council meetings. New Windsor will hold its April meeting via Zoom on April 1 at 7 p.m.

The New Windsor town hall will be closed for the meeting, which is where New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop will be hosting the meeting while other members of the council and residents join in remotely.

“We still need to continue providing the necessary services for our residents,” said Roop. “This Zoom meeting is keeping the council members, staff, and residents at home, safe with their families while still conducting business.”

According to Roop, he will open the meeting at 6:45 to give participants time to join the meeting before it starts at 7 p.m. Roop informed citizens of how and where to join in a post on Facebook.

The Community Media Center is working with New Windsor and will post the Zoom meeting on its site.

Turner said they plan to do the same with Union Bridge and Mount Airy. They are still having conversations with Taneytown and Sykesville about how to proceed with their virtual streaming, according to Turner.

Sykesville Town Manager Joe Cosentini said they hope to work with the Community Media Center and use Zoom but are still testing it out.

Taneytown Mayor Bradley Wantz announced Monday that Taneytown will be conducting its April city council workshop and meeting virtually via YouTube in a news release. The livestream will be publicized on social media and the city’s website closer to its date. All public hearing related to the pending budget will be postponed until May, according to he release.

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Manchester is also looking into having its April town council meeting via Zoom but is still finalizing the logistics, according to Mayor Ryan Warner.

Hampstead is still discussing what to do, including whether to hold a meeting in April, according to Hampstead Mayor Chris Nevin.

Turner said it’s important to the Community Media Center to get the information out to residents.

“We’ve always been working closely with the municipalities and making government accessible. The concept of public education and government access for cable is something that’s been around since the ’70s," said Turner. "Its intent always has been is to increase civic engagement or citizen participation by making meetings more accessible, and thus the term government access. So, at the core of our mission, and probably among our higher priorities, is the ability for the citizens and residents to hear directly from their government what’s going on and have meetings that are open and accessible. Also the ability for governments to make their information known as widely as possible.”

The Community Media Center is limited as to how many meeting it can cover due to an annual budget of about $1 million, but still pushes to get to local government functions.

“We would like to see more funding for this so that we could cover 100 percent of the meetings because right now, with the budget that we’ve been made available to us, we can’t cover all of the meetings,” said Turner. “This is an important part of a decision by our government leaders when they allocate funds from this special kind of fund that makes it possible for us to not only cover government, but also give a voice to the people so that there is public access at the same time that there’s government access. This is this range of services that we offer that aren’t available by any other means.”

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