Fort Worth

Fort Worth City Council to embrace technology at meetings

A picture from a presentation to the Fort Worth City Council shows the screen (in red) where council members who video conference into meetings will be visible to the public at city hall.
A picture from a presentation to the Fort Worth City Council shows the screen (in red) where council members who video conference into meetings will be visible to the public at city hall. Courtesy

Councilman Dennis Shingleton came to the May 5 City Council meeting with a head cold and a fever.

With a controversial zoning case vote needed in his district, Shingleton said he felt like had to be at the meeting, sick or not.

But with new videoconferencing software in place, the City Council is poised to change traditional meeting rules and let council members videoconference in from a remote location.

The new software and the vote on the council’s rules and procedures, scheduled for today’s City Council meeting, will also let council members hold remote town hall meetings that conference in to a scheduled City Council meeting.

“Had that capability been in place for that meeting, I think it would have been a lot easier and certainly a lot more convenient for me,” Shingleton said of when he was sick.

“But that is not the biggest issue. The bigger issue is the capability it gives for folks in my northernmost regions to at least tap into a council meeting with me in their presence,” Shingleton said.

Fort Worth’s sprawling city limits — the entire city covered 339 square miles in the 2010 Census — can make it tricky for residents to get downtown, especially in the traffic-congested areas near the Alliance corridor.

Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, has had trouble getting residents in the far north to participate in council meetings. For Fuller, who lives on the southern edge of the district near North Tarrant Parkway, the drive to City Hall takes 40 minutes on a traffic-free day.

For residents closer to Texas Motor Speedway, the drive can take upward of an hour.

“If you have a council member who is willing to come up and sponsor a teleconference into the City Council meeting, it is more likely we will be able to get people to drive the 5 miles to come to the teleconference than it is to get people down to City Hall,” Fuller said.

He hopes the technology change not only gets more people involved but also spurs a sense of community to a group of residents who sometimes feel like they belong more in Keller and other northern cities.

“I think it takes government to the people, and I think that is consistent with the mayor’s policy and it is consistent with what we have been trying to do, and that is get people involved,” Fuller said.

Following procedures

In 2013, the Texas Legislature amended the Texas Open Meetings Act to allow videoconferencing. The City Council approved spending $235,269 on the technology in November.

Council members and residents must be visible, and audio must be working for the process to be valid, City Secretary Mary Kayser said.

If the video or audio cuts out on just a council member conferencing in and no members of the public are present in the remote location, and there is still a quorum present in the physical City Council chambers, the meeting can continue.

If the video or audio cuts out and there is not a quorum or if there were members of the public at the remote location, the meeting must be recessed or rescheduled until the technical problems can be fixed.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984

Twitter: @catyhirst

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