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0 votes
Does anybody have an opinion on the following.

Our last meeting attracted approx half a dozen members of the public. All but one were known to us. This unknown person joined the meeting with their video and mic. switched off. (This even during the few minutes of casual local chat between PCs and residents before the chair commenced the meeting proper).

The unknown person's screen displayed the name Amy Brown and I just thought that perhaps she is an elderly lady who is a bit nervous of using Zoom.

Anyway, the screen and mic. stayed off through public participation and when that ended two or three residents left but the Amy Brown person stayed on viewing and listening with blacked out screen right upto the private section. At that point Amy Brown (if that was her name) left the meeting when requested to do so by the chair. So whoever it was hadn't drifted off or left the room or something similar.

The thing is that I and one or two others were then a bit concerned that a lady somewhere in our community might need some help but had been too nervous to ask a question. At this point our Clerk said that when password requests were made for the Zoom meeting she recognised all the applicants except one. The ones she recognised all attended the meeting, but the name she hadn't recognised was a Steve Johnson. So it would seem that Amy Brown could have actually been Steve Johnson using a false name for some reason. Or could it be that Steve Johnson is also a false name as through away email addresses are easy enough to create.

It just seems to me that it is very bad manners to behave in this way when attending any sort of online meeting and while I know that any member of public or the press can attend live meetings without the need to provide details about themselves, the above behavior does seem to be streching things. I am feeling that we should amend our Zoom policy to require all attendees to at least join the meeting with video on even if they switch it off later in the meeting. After all if it were a live meeting you are able to at least see those attending but I am also very much aware that members of the public are free to come and go without as they wish.
asked by (930 points)

4 Answers

+2 votes
Its my firm view that corporate bodies have absolutely no right whatsoever to identify members of the press & public who choose to observe meetings.  Am quite surprised at a number of councils have moved to a model whereby "requesting access" is required to get to see meeting branding it an "application process".  Could you imagine the furore if in ordinary times the location of you meeting was kept secret (rotating between buildings) so even armed with an agenda the public cant actually attend the meeting without emailing and "applying"...  We all need to remember its us as Councils who are striving and expected to be as transparent & open as possible.   We have had loads watching cloaked (with quite amusing names often topical) watching ours and honestly am just thrilled people engaging with us and or care enough to attend... Some have since revealed themselves once they got to know us indeed have offered to help with various things.
answered by (2.5k points)
As stated by Progress there should be no pre vetting or registration of members of the public for PC meetings. Excuses given include "to stop disruption of the meeting". As I have stated before control of attendees ( and councillors) is the one and only job of the chair and if they cannot control the meeting ( live or virtual)then it has to be asked "why are they chair"?
I agree with Progress on this matter.
Having been using Zoom regularly to run meetings (Council and private), I'm not sure James' issue is anything unusual. At a recent company AGM, attendees were asked to register and specific instructions were sent to all, giving clear instructions that their Zoom settings were be set to join muted, and set to the correct name of the applicant. It was a shambles - many had not bothered to action said instructions, were logging on with someone else's account, or using default names. Many were therefore excluded from the meeting. (Sigh)
Hmm! @ Progress and Mentorman. That was broadly the kind of none reply I expected. I am of course aware that the public or press are free to attend without registration or vetting and I did make that clear in my question the responses you make convey no revalations and you are pounding on very basic and mundane points. That was not my point and Caroline's breath of fresh air seems to acknowledge this. Thank you Caroline.
Trying to be polite about it, You would have to be more than a little cavalier and naive with regard to your meeting planning if you didn't require a password for Zoom meetings. The only way such can be issued is on request as just publishing a password for all to access negates the very point of a password doesn't it. Nor is the issuing a password registration or vetting. Nor was my question about controlling a meeting and I am left astounded how one could work (by your own admission) your own personal old chestnut of meeting control in the point I make. The meeting was controlled perfectly.
Every single piece of advise (both internal & external) has consistently encouraged our officers to move us away from requiring press & public to a) identify themselves b) have to contact anyone to get credentials for access.  A range of setting exist to accommodate this whether it be live stream (via likes of Youtube ) or simply ensuring suitable settings applies to guests using the actual platform.  If some of our residents thought for one second our Officer was handing there email names across to us they more than likely take council to ICO... Personally Id not worry about whose watching your meetings.. life is too short.. If they want to remain secret leave them to it.
If you are genuinely concerned they are nervous about asking questions put them at ease at the start (we certainly have had people reveal themselves months after getting to know how we work).  I always have my council contact details on screen at some point during the meeting.  Always make a point of thanking folk for attending and if they dont want to speak absolutely fine (what about encouraging them to use chat function perhaps more confident using that?) some of ours have. found it useful
@carolinenelson Certainly the Annual Meeting of the Parish (whereby electors within voting members) example where it gets more complicated.  As if you had 40 "mystery" people would be no way of knowing whether were actual electors of said parish therefore eligible to vote in said thing...  I can see how all that would unravel.  We were quite lucky in that everyone who attended all had cameras on and all were known.  I wonder what we would have had to do (am sure our officers would have known what to do) if that had not been case
Thank you.
Actually your comment about putting them at their ease is really what this is about.
As I indicated we usually have a few minutes loose chat with residents before the meeting starts proper. In that few minutes most councillors try to engage with public attendees. There are the regulars of course but new faces usually look a little unsure of themselves and who wouldn't be if attending for the first time. We always try to put the nrevous first timers at their ease but it's obviously difficult if they have their video and mic. switched off and probably even more so if using a false name which switching their video on would have revealed in this case.
I was indeed more concerned with how this sort of behavior might impact the other nervous first tim members of the public. It can be nerve challenging at a live meeting but first time at Zoom public meeting must be that much more so.
0 votes
There 'could' be reasons why the mystery attendee wished to remain anonymous.  It's entirely their choice and right.

It might be as simple as they logged on with "Amy Brown's" device - hence that's the name that showed up on screen after having "applied" for access to the meeting as "Steve Johnson."

It's all irrelevant really, it is an open public meeting - anyone can attend and they may, or may not, wish to reveal their identity.

Actually, the process of applying for access is where your PCs attention should be focussed rather than concern about identifying attendees.
answered by (3.9k points)
Thank you, Yes, having pondered this on and off myself, I am aware of what and how this might have occurred but thank you for your observations they are appreciated.
I also realise that there could be reasons why the mystery attendee might want to remain anomymous. Although, I do often use my wife's laptop to attend Zoom meetings. When you log on it very clearly gives you the opportunity to change your on screen name and all he would have had to do is just type Steve without a surname. At the end of the public session all members of the public present had spoken except Amy Brown. So the chair said "Amy did you have a question before I close"  complete silence, "Amy you have your mic muted" silence again from Amy, so after a slightly awkward wait the public session was closed.

However when we do go back to live meetings the public or press will not be afforded a row of confessional boxes to sit in with darkened corridors to facilitate their entrance and exit. They will all just sit in full view, and yes we will even have the audacity to have the lights on.

Besides what I have already outlined we have actually had a couple of complaints about this particular incident from the other members of the public present. They say they found it a little offputting and also felt a little restained during the public session and that even though they were unaware that it could well have been a man with the false name of Amy Brown.
Re your: .. "Actually, the process of applying for access is where your PCs attention should be focussed rather than concern about identifying attendees."  I'm not really sure what you mean.

I don't have a concern about actually identifying attendees it just seems like good meeting protocol and not least good manners for not just the council but also the other residents. While applying for access is in my (and our council's) book a non starter. Nobody should have to apply for access. Anybody should be able to just requests a password and get one no questions asked. Zoombombing security is of course very loose in that respect but at least it is only local residents who will have a tendancy to see the notice of public meeting and therefore only local residents are likely to request a password which is always issued by return without question. The request can be over the phone by text or by email (without name), it is the residents choice. So there is obviously not the slightest attempt to identify who may be requesting a meeting password and only the Clerk or her deputy issue the password. Councillors have no idea of even how many may be attending let alone their names.

My question was simply requesting opinion as to it being considered simply GOOD MANNERS to log into a meeting with video on even if this is switched off soon after the meeting starts and is there any RULE (not personal opinion) why we couldn't write this into our Zoom meeting policy so that Zoom and Live meeting are to some degree on a level playing at last in respect of this.
Great response James, obviously no problems having a fairly detailed, polite, relevant and intelligent discussion in the anonymous 1 dimensional forum chat scenario.

All I'd suggest is try and draw that level of appreciation and acceptance across to PC meetings in light of the current covid imposed IT facilitation processes that we are all experiencing - perhaps a little quicker than might otherwise have been the case.
You asked for opinions and opinions have been presented.  it's all just personal opinion.

Mine is that requiring the issue of a password imposes (whether intention or otherwise) a barrier to public participation rather than an encouragement.

Removal of barriers and encouragement of participation is always going to be my default starting position.

In regard to IT security issues - personally, I consider it to be something of a red herring at PC level.  There simply isn't the inherent interest or advantage to 'bombing' a PC meeting.
A link and password should be presented together in the agenda and published.  "Control" of the meeting procedure is still retained by the admin functionality of disabling non-speaking parties mic.

As to manners, that's very personal - do/did you require a member of the public to stand and introduce them self at a physical meeting?  Maybe if they wish to speak, but what about casual observers?  Returns to my personal opinion about removing rather than reenforcing barriers.

Manners (and cultural idiosyncrasies) are personal - others may differ from your own.  I would take the view that it is the duty (and good manners) for those in office to adapt their own expectations to put at ease a visitor.  Granted, you have expressed examples of how this was attempted, but it still gives the impression of being viewed from your end of the telescope rather than the other way around.  I also accept, that is often a very difficult concept for many to grasp.
The exam question:  Is there a "rule" that would prevent you from incorporating something into your policy?

No.  No rule that I can think of - put what ever you want in your policy but how are you going to enforce it?

If a local policy infringed upon my inherent right to attend or access information at a public meeting you could find yourself in contravention of the spirit of the Nolan principles and fall foul of code of conduct {preventing access to information which should be available} and face follow up ICO investigation.

What do you actually stand to GAIN from requiring attendee ID?
+1 vote
Your council has a Zoom policy? Mine does not.
Mine will not permit access unless it goes via the clerk which I disagree with as people have been prevented,  but noone cares in my council. We are a very secretive council and it's utterly disgusting.
You do not want to do anything that encourages that. Stay as you are.
answered by (4.6k points)
0 votes
Why do you have to see who is watching you?. Many people I know on Zoom etc would not want to be seen in jamas etc.  If they have not asked to speak they do not need to be seen. Simple. As councillors we are not in charge of residents. We are there to serve them.
answered by (400 points)

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