Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

City Council chambers are getting a $450,000 upgrade later this year.

City Council approved the improvements to the chambers’ audiovisual, agenda and meeting management systems last week at the urging of city staff, who said the existing equipment and software, which were installed in 2009, are becoming obsolete and unreliable.

“It is increasingly difficult to repair or find replacements for many of the system’s components since many of the models have been discontinued,” staff said.

The new audiovisual and meeting management systems will allow the public to request to speak electronically using a kiosk in the lobby. Councilmembers will vote electronically and the results will be automatically displayed on new high-resolution monitors with closed captioning.

Meeting minutes will be automatically generated and speakers will be able to plug in their tablets and laptops to give presentations.

“The new … systems would enhance the public’s experience when attending meetings … and provide an efficient, functional (system) meeting the needs of a 21st century city,” staff said.

Construction will take about two weeks and is scheduled for late 2019, when fewer meetings are scheduled in the Council Chambers. Meetings will be held in the Civic East Wing during this period.

The $450,000 contract comes weeks after the council approved a 2019-2021 city budget that trims millions in spending, initiating a decade of belt-tightening. Over the next 10 years, the city will be paying down a $448 million unfunded pension liability as revenues from traditional sources, such as sales tax from brick-and-mortar retail, grows only marginally.

Mayor Gleam Davis said she thinks replacing the audiovisual systems will make council meetings more accessible for people with disabilities. She questioned the optics of the project, however, referencing the recently adopted budget.

“I think as we are asking our entire community and staff to take one for the team, to gussy up our chambers seems a little questionable,” she said.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown said the new systems are necessary and will increase the council’s transparency and accessibility. He said many residents have told him that they don’t always understand what is said during council meetings or how councilmembers vote. Closed captioning and electronic voting will help with that, he said.

“Before the phrase appears irretrievably in social media, I want to say that the phrase ‘gussy up’ is not what this contract is about,” McKeown said. “This is anything but a gussying up, this is a move toward better democracy.”

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