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Luke Tinsley

In the search for equipment to record county committee meetings for the public, the technology usage ad hoc committee is testing out a device called the Meeting Owl.

The video conference device is made by Owl Labs. It consists of eight microphones and a lens that rotates 360 degrees to locate and focus on the speaker. A connected computer with the correct programming shows a panoramic view of the meeting and the other half of the screen can be split among speakers.

Recordings of the meetings will be posted on a to-be-designed YouTube channel.

It was tested on Sept. 9 first at the ad hoc’s meeting in room 112 then at the legislative committee in the commission chambers.

“I think it did very well in the committee chambers, the 112 room,” adhoc chairman Luke Tinsley said. “It didn’t do so well in the main chamber, but any time you test a new piece of technology one time you might learn something new about it that you didn’t before and kind adapt to it and try it again to see if it works.”

It was discovered by Sumner County IT Director, Dennis Cary, who said he was looking for a more cost-effective solution.

Currently the committee has purchased one owl and its software and a separate computer for $2,450.

A previously considered solution for filming the meetings cost approximately $11,000. A bid from SouthCentral A/V was received in May to install a fixed camera in the back of the room. The camera would focus on the speaker when they used any of three present microphones. 

The meeting table would also be modified so that speakers faced the camera directly. Recordings would not be live, but would also be put on a YouTube channel.

It was decided to bid the project out for $15,000 and was built into the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Room 112 is commonly used as a committee meeting room and is also used as an early voting location. This caused some hesitation inside and outside of the committee.

At the Aug. 12 budget meeting, election commission chairman Allen Ehmling stated that adding cameras to the room would keep them from using the room for early voting and that they would have “no place to go.”

“From my perspective, if you have to use that room for voting, those (Owls) are fine because they are portable,” he said.

Though there is no state statue about having a camera fixed the wall of a voting location, Ehmling said that the state “doesn’t like it.”

“They say it can but a damper on people’s willingness to vote because maybe they are being filmed in there,” he said.

However, Cary stated at the ad hoc’s Aug. 4 meeting that there is an existing fisheye camera in the room controlled by the Department of Homeland Security.

“We are going to try it several more times before we move ahead (with) any more of them for the sole purpose of fully understanding this technology and what it can and can’t do,” Tinsley said.

The committee will try the owl again in the main chamber at the Sept. 24 planning commission meeting, but if it does not work there Tinsley said that another alternative will have to be found.

The next ad hoc meeting is Oct. 15 at 4 p.m. in room 112 at the county administrative building.

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