Port sound system plan moves ahead

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WALLA WALLA -- Port of Walla Walla commissioners have heard the message about recording their public meetings loud and clear. Now they're making plans for an audio system that will make it possible in the first quarter of the year.

In a presentation during a meeting Thursday, technology specialist Aaron Poff of Kennewick's System Solutions Northwest presented specifications for a new system that will convert the existing meeting space into a multipurpose room with better visual access to presentations, better sound and recordings that can be accessed by the public as audio minutes.

Under the specifications, which will serve as the guidelines in an upcoming request for proposals, the Port's meeting space would have nine ceiling speakers installed for even sound throughout the room. A mobile unit will allow commissioners to record offsite meetings, such as those in Burbank and Waitsburg.

Two projection screens in different spots of the meeting room at the administrative office will allow attendees to see presentations. Consequently the Port will be able to reduce its printings of maps and other materials. The plan also includes microphones with speakers, audio processors, amplifier and all of the hardware for wiring.

Two of the three commissioners initially said the estimated $40,000 system seemed excessive.

"I was looking for a more basic system," Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller said. "What's presented, to me, seems like way overkill."

He said that was particularly true of the number of speakers. He also wasn't convinced the Port needs two projection screens.

"I have to agree with Paul. I think it should be a little more simple," Commissioner Ron Dunning said.

However, commission President Mike Fredrickson said he believes the proposal is what's needed.

"Can we get away with six speakers? Probably. But with more video presentations it's difficult in the room for everyone to see," he said.

He said he's also experienced meetings where fewer speakers are set up throughout the room, leaving the people closest to the speakers blasted so those farther away can hear. The nine speakers will create a more even sound. Notwithstanding that, removing them won't save the Port much money, Poff added.

Fredrickson also pointed out that the estimated price is less than half of the Port's budgeted amount of $100,000 for the overhaul. It's also a one-time cost that will help the agency address criticism from some in the public that the Port is not as transparent as it could be.

That concern was illustrated at the start of the meeting during public comments. Walla Walla resident Barlow Corkrum, who recently lost a close race against Fredrickson for his Port district seat, testified that minutes during one of the Port's November meetings were not actually taken. The Port reportedly received its official minutes, adopted during Thursday's session, based on notes taken by Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz.

Once a new recording system is in place, the Port plans to contract with AV Capture All at a cost of about $2,150 per year. The public will be able to access the audio minutes online through that company. Port officials authorized Poff and administrative staff to proceed with the process for a new system.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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