Like many other cities, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Santa Ana to move to virtual meetings at a moment’s notice. Quickly after the shutdown began, Santa Ana offered virtual access to council meetings via Zoom, removing the sometimes-insurmountable step for residents to make it to chambers for meetings in person.
Participation quickly grew as residents no longer had to coordinate transportation, line up childcare, or fight Southern California’s notorious traffic to join a public meeting; instead, they could take part using their computer or mobile device. An option to simply dial in was available as well, and participation numbers continued to grow, far surpassing viewing numbers for the meeting on the local cable access channel (CTV3).
With such a strong demand from the public for this virtual access, virtual meetings are still practiced by many California cities, including Santa Ana.
New Meeting Management Software
Santa Ana transitioned their meeting management solution to the OneMeeting meeting management suite, upgrading their manual process to a truly integrated, streamlined meeting management solution.
OneMeeting manages agenda translation using Google Translate. HTML agendas available on the public portal automatically display a language dropdown option that converts the agenda into 100+ different languages.
Because the City of Santa Ana has such a large population of Spanish speakers, Daisy also found it vital to have a Spanish translator on hand to interpret public comments made in Spanish during City Council meetings.
Additionally, a separate encoder interprets council meetings in Spanish, so that residents can listen to meeting recordings in their choice of English or Spanish.
In working towards Santa Ana’s goal to be as transparent and inclusive as possible, Daisy ultimately found that there were three main areas of focus to increase access:
Streamlining the process that made meeting items accessible to the public
Improving the ease of access and overall transparency for the public by using user-friendly online portals
Increasing ways the public can contact the City and access information
Although she had already made such headway in opening up public meetings to the community, Daisy didn’t stop there. She discovered another interesting challenge in helping English Language Learners participate in public meetings: an undercurrent of government distrust. This sense of unease in the community prevented constituents from even wanting to participate in public meetings, never mind learning how to do so.
Daisy set out into the community and trained members of neighborhood associations and culture-specific community groups on how to use the new technology to join meetings virtually. Daisy’s willingness to truly connect allowed her to establish inroads in her community, shifting wariness to a desire to participate, to be well-informed, and to understand policymaker decisions.