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St. Paul City Council meets in basement while chamber TV gear replaced

If you’re headed to the St. Paul City Council meeting this afternoon, don’t head up to the third-floor Council Chambers in City Hall.

If you’re headed to the St. Paul City Council meeting this afternoon to check on a sewer assessment or learn about the new precinct boundaries, don’t head up to the third-floor Council Chambers in City Hall.

Starting today — and for the meetings on March 28 and April 4 — the council will meet in Room 40 in the basement of City Hall.

The reason: replacement of the equipment used to televise the council meetings.

“Most of this equipment is at least 10 years old and up to 18 years old; the exception being the microphones, which were replaced in 2005, said Ellen Biales, legislative aide to Council President Kathy Lantry. She said the replacement is needed because:

  • Maintenance costs are increasing and/or parts are no longer available for repairs
  • The equipment is not digital and, therefore, technical quality is deteriorating/outdated
  • Lighting required for televised meeting coverage is not energy efficient
  • The experience of meeting participants and observers is hampered by the lack of widely accepted technology (like PCs and digital displays) that are ergonomically integrated into the space.

A memo from county officials, who also use the room for county board meetings, says the changes include:

  • Replacement of TV monitors in the Chambers and hallway with LCD monitors. The box in the middle of the Council table will be removed and the monitor will be flush with the podium.
  • Installation of updated cameras for recording and live streaming.
  • Replacement and enhancement of lighting.
  • Upgrading of the presentation system, including installation of a new timer for speakers and a flash drive reader.
  • Installation of a new meeting recording system that can be controlled in the chambers itself and does not require media staff to operate.
  • Installation of a glare-reducing shade that will enhance video quality and make it easier for the public to watch televised meetings.

The expected cost of $280,000 will be shared by the city and county.

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The county board met in Room 40 on Tuesday and will hold its March 27 and April 3 meetings there, too.

This could be a boon to council and county board meeting attendees: The wooden pews in the council chambers get pretty uncomfortable after the first few minutes of any meeting. The chairs downstairs have to be an improvement, I figure.

But Biales said the audience chairs in Room 40, while a step up from the pews, aren’t so great, either.

“If you ever had to sit through a planning commission hearing down there for any length of time, they tend to cause you to squirm,” she said.

Or is that just the planning commission?

Council members and county board members, though, don’t have those seating problems. They have big cushy chairs in the council chambers and those have been moved downstairs during the exile.

Wouldn’t want the policy-makers to squirm, would we?

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.