Rochester keeps Zoom as an option to speak live at council meetings

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published August 9, 2023


ROCHESTER — Residents who can’t attend Rochester City Council meetings in person will continue to be able to share their comments via Zoom.

On July 10, the council discussed whether or not it should keep the service and voted 6-1 in favor of keeping it, with Councilman Mark Albrecht dissenting.

Rochester resident Christine Zimmerman attended the meeting and told the council she was concerned about the city taking Zoom away, leaving calling in via phone or attending the meeting in person as the only other ways to comment on an issue.

“Eighty percent of communication happens nonverbally. That’s a lot, so if all you are doing is calling in on a phone and listening to the meeting on a phone, and trying to communicate in that way to council members, I don’t think that you have the same impact that you do when your face is up on the screen and you can share your thoughts,” Zimmerman said.

There are a lot of reasons that people can’t attend a meeting in person, she said. People might have mobility challenges. They might need to care for their children. They may be out of town.

“When there is an issue that people want to be involved in or have their voice heard … (they) can be here and be present in the best way possible,” she said of a Zoom option.

Albrecht said he is in favor of dropping Zoom, which he argued is hardly used by residents and would also save the city money.

“The pandemic has officially ended, and we, as a city, back in March, came back to in-public meetings like this. We’ve seen, over the last two to three meetings, when the public is motivated to come out, they do come out and speak up,” he said. “We are one of the few, if any, municipalities that are still doing Zoom meetings. … I think it’s time that we get caught up with where we are now, and where other municipalities are, and go back to in-person meetings like we have done for years and years, prior to the pandemic.”

Council member Marilyn Trent said that although the public only used the Zoom option three times from January tp June of 2023, the service should be retained.

“I think that citizens need to have as many opportunities to get involved as possible. … I think that when people aren’t able to be here, it’s a good way to have transparency and hear what the citizens’ voices are,” she said.

Council member Ann Peterson said using Zoom for council meetings is “a good service for the community.”

“We have a very aging demographic, and we want them to be able to listen if they choose and join if they choose. I think it’s a small price for us to pay to have that service for them,” she said.

“If we are able to provide another way to engage the citizens in the process, I’m in full support of that,” added Council member Steve Sage.

Mayor Stuart Bikson said the city’s cost to continue with Zoom is around $1,000-$2,000 annually.

“I think that it’s a small price to pay for access to all kinds of different types of people,” he said. “If it was a large dollar figure — if it cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars — maybe that would be different, but for this minor cost, I think we also should continue to offer this option to our residents. … Actually, I’m surprised other communities aren’t doing the same thing.”