‘What did you say? I can’t hear you’

Tama County citizens address accessibility at the Board of Supervisors meetings

‘What did you say? I can’t hear you’ is often heard at the Tama Co. Board of Supervisors meetings.

On Monday, the public re-addressed an issue they have been facing while attending the meeting, accessibility, asking the Board repeatedly when they will install sound equipment to help those with hearing loss and to live stream for those that wish to participate in meetings but can’t.

Bev Espenscheid of Traer stood up to speak to the Board on behalf of others in the room.

“These people deserve microphones. If I need to donate it, I will, but it’s ridiculous that we’ve gone weeks and weeks and weeks, and you can’t accomplish that,” she said. “It doesn’t take that long to make a decision for these people who are hard-working and maybe are hard of hearing due to their hard work, and you can’t even accommodate that?”

Technology access has evolved over the years, opening new avenues for communication. During the pandemic, live streaming became a necessity for some businesses and schools to continue. Governmental bodies across the country are doing the same.

Kathy Harkema of Poweshiek County was met with silence when she asked the board, “When are you going to start live streaming public meetings? We’ve given you an example. (In) Benton County, they’re providing a public service to their citizens by live streaming their meetings. We’ve asked you to do that again, again and again. What’s the status of live streaming all Tama County meetings?”

Benton County created a YouTube channel for live streaming their meetings and digital archives. Poweshiek County is taking steps to update its IT department so they, too, can provide Zoom meetings to the public.

Richard Arp addressed the Board about using some of the remaining funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Is there some money in that that can go towards camera and sound equipment?” he asked.

On Aug. 29, the Board approved the distribution of the American Rescue Plan for Tama County with a remainder of $500,000, with the thought of putting it towards fiber-optic internet access for public offices.

Harkema made a simple request.

“We’ve requested you previously, multiple times, to take official action to go on record as pursuing the opportunity to live stream public meetings. You would have better public input and public transparency if you would please make an effort to live stream these meetings,” she said. “Why not use technology to have better communication with your taxpayers? Because the public has a right to know and wants to know about the decisions you’re making on their behalf.”

As of the moment, the Board of Supervisors has yet to take action on a plan that would expand access to meetings. And with the impending winter predicted to be a doozy, concerned citizens of Tama County might be unable to access these public meetings in the future.