OTTUMWA — Wapello County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Richmond called it "an accidental benefit."

Whatever the case, the Wapello County Board of Supervisors meetings could take a leap into the 21st century, perhaps as soon as next week.

Richmond discussed with the supervisors during Tuesday's weekly meeting about moving the meetings to the videoconference platform Zoom, while simultaneously streaming the meetings over a YouTube channel, and archiving the meetings for future reference.

The city of Ottumwa has been streaming its meetings on YouTube for months, and the opportunity has arisen because of COVID-19 as a new way for people to see the meetings when city and county buildings are closed to the public.

"It takes transparency to a whole new level," Richmond said. "It allows people to participate when they're all at work right now, but still want to be in on the conversation."

Initially, Richmond wanted to connect all elected bodies to the emergency operations center. However, when those meetings don't need to be conducted, it offers a way to virtually host meetings on a more local level.

Unlike the camera at the city's meetings, which is set well back and above of the actual meeting in City Hall, the setup for supervisors' meetings would potentially be from a wall at the back of the jury box in the courtroom they are held. A camera fixed on a 60-inch monitor, plus a small computer, speaker and internet access, would allow meetings to be streamed.

Richmond said he has installed equipment in city halls in Agency, Blakesburg, Eldon and Eddyville and will be installing it in Kirkville. Also, Jefferson County has been conducting its supervisors meetings through Zoom since the early days of the pandemic.

"(Information technology director) Paul (Culver) and I found some good deals online at an outlet store. The price was right and it's simple to do," Richmond said. "The board is kind of the last one on the list. This city has done this for quite a long time, and very successfully.

"Another benefit is if, say, you have a contractor who is in Des Moines or something and can't be here, and they need to make a presentation," Richmond said, "they can share their screens of pictures, documents, and just go about their business."

Though the jury box would be preferred, Richmond said the finding a place to mount the TV and other equipment would be the biggest hurdle. The courtroom isn't overly large, and Richmond said it was important to be "mindful that this is a courtroom."

"I have everything we need to install it," he said. "If you want to pursue it."

Board chair Brian Morgan, who had the first discussions with Richmond about switching to a more modern platform to conduct the meetings, believed it was a good idea. Supervisor Jerry Parker said, "there isn't any reason not to do it."

The only real cost to the county would be a Zoom membership, which runs about $150 a year. The equipment is paid for through a match of the Homeland Security Grant Program.

"I think it's worth doing. It provides that other layer of transparency," Morgan said. "It's in real time, but since it's recorded, people can go back and watch it at night. I think it's worth pursuing. It's cheap, and we have the stuff for it."

In other business:

• The supervisors approved the second reading of Chapter 36 of the Flood Plain Management Ordinance. Flood plain maps are redrawn every five years, but Parker noted there has been no significant change to the county's flood plain in the last two years.

• The supervisors approved a resolution for a stop sign at the new U.S. 63 access to Rabbit Run Road. The sign would be placed at a T-intersection for  traffic flowing northeast on the new connector between U.S. 63 and Rabbit Run Road.

• The supervisors approved a request for an easement to maintain a culvert that stretches onto private property onto a feed lot on Bluegrass Road. 

• The supervisors approved phase one and phase two projects for renovating the floors at the Wapello County Jail, and removal of carpeted areas in the locker rooms at the Ottumwa Police Department.

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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