Borough to buy new sound system

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2003

Due to a reporting error, the following article contains an error. The resolution did not pass. It had a majority of votes, but needed five to pass that night. The resolution comes up for another vote July 8 and is expect to pass. The Clarion regrets the error.

It could cost up to $46,500 to bring the recording and audio output systems at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers into the 21st century, but the borough clerk's office thinks it will be money well spent.

So does the assembly, which last week authorized Mayor Dale Bagley to spend up to that sum to replace the antiquated analog sound system with a modern recording system that will enable the clerk's office to record public meetings digitally.

Recorded that way, the audio from assembly meetings, as well as those of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, could be stored on compact discs, which can hold up to 20 hours each.

More than that, the digital recordings are expected to deliver much-improved audio for radio listeners and enable meetings to be streamed over the Internet.

Along with the digitalization of the meeting data, the audio upgrade project includes replacement of the chamber's amplifier and mixer. That should make hearing a good deal easier for long-suffering audience members who have had to put up with the lousy acoustics of the assembly's sound system.

Resolution 2003-073, passed last week, authorizes the mayor to execute a contract with N.W. Judicial Technologies for purchase and installation of sound system components and assorted software and training.

In a memo to the assembly, borough clerk Linda Murphy said the existing system has several problems, including that the microphones mounted in front of each assembly seat fail to capture members' comments unless they are speaking directly into them, and wireless mics sometimes worn by members often cut in and out. Feedback also presents difficulties at times.

"Digital output is needed for audio streaming and for high-quality radio broadcast," she said.

Murphy said the clerk's office did extensive research to find a digital system that would meet the various needs of the assembly, school board and commission. They found a computer-based digital recording system that is used in courtrooms across the country, including in Alaska, produced by FTR Gold Software. Originally developed for use in a courtroom setting, it is rapidly becoming the system of choice for municipalities, Murphy said.

In April, FTR Gold and its West Coast distributor N.W. Judicial Technologies provided an online demonstration for the clerk's office staff and representatives of the school district, planning department and the borough's Manage-ment Information Systems Depart-ment.

Not only would the digital system permit storage of future meetings on CDs, but Murphy said that eventually those stored recordings would be linked to the borough Web site, allowing anyone to download a previously recorded meeting. The system will time stamp the recordings and allow clerk's officer personnel to insert what are known as log notes directly into the recording, either in real time during a meeting, or later if necessary. Time stamps and log notes will allow software to find specific data on a CD quickly.

Murphy also said she would look into the possibility of linking action agenda pages directly to audio data, perhaps allowing Internet users to click on a specific meeting item and then listen to that discussion. She said she doesn't know if that is possible, however.

Murphy said she first began looking into digital gear several years ago, but at that time, the existing FTR product lacked many of the bells and whistles the latest system has.

"The system is capable of doing a whole lot more than we know right now, she said. "During the demonstration we had so much information thrown at us, we were sitting there thrilled at what we would eventually be able to do with this. And the bonus is that we should have a higher quality recording at the end of the day."

The expenditure is not being put out to bid, Murphy said. Research by borough Purchasing Director Mark Fowler determined there were no local businesses authorized to distribute the software, she said in the memo to the assembly.

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