Trumbull adjusts to life online; first virtual town council meeting slated

TRUMBULL — When First Selectman Vicki Tesoro announced on March 13 that town offices would be closed while staff worked from home, Bill Chin knew his department had a huge task in front of it.

Chin, the town’s technology director, and his three-person staff were tasked with getting the town’s workers online and able to do their jobs remotely.

The process went about as well as could be expected, he said.

“That first week was...painful,” Chin said April 2, while working from his home in Wallingford. “We were already in the process of upgrading some of the department heads’ laptops, so we had a cache of older ones that we were able to pull out and update. Then we were able to buy 10 new laptops, and with every one that we were ready to give out, we were training people and printing out instructions for logging on to the system.”

Department heads had been issued laptops for years, but support staff — the people who answer phones and field questions, and generally have the most direct contact with the public — were used to working office hours in an actual office.

The efforts paid off as, for the most part, the transition went relatively smoothly,he said. There were minor hiccups, including getting office phones to forward calls to workers’ cell phones. And at least one person needed help logging on to their own home wifi, Chin said.

“That’s fun to troubleshoot over the phone,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Do you know your password? No? Well, that doesn’t help.’”

But with the town’s day-to-day operations now up and running, the department is gearing up for its first video public meeting — the Town Council will meet remotely April 6. The agenda includes discussions on revising the approval dates for the 2020-21 town budget and naming an auditing firm to investigate the Board of Education’s current year budget shortfall.

The meeting will take place via online teleconference, Chin said. Residents wishing to watch can join the meeting online from their own computer or use their phone to call 929-205-6099. By computer or phone, the webinar ID is 244-023-625 and the password is 841201. Residents wishing to comment on agenda items can email Council Clerk Margaret Mastroni.

During the meeting’s public comment portion, those on the call can use the “Raise Hand” feature to request that they be acknowledged, and their computer’s microphone can then be activated so everyone in the session can hear them.

Council members also will be able to make their computer screens visible to each other and the public, which will come in handy for things like budget deliberations or Planning and Zoning meetings where members are reviewing plans, he said.

“The Trumbull Housing Authority already used the system to hold a meeting, and it went pretty smoothly,” Chin said. “It’s a pretty quick learning curve.”

The online meetings are limited to about 500 participants, including the town officials. Trumbull Community Television also plans to live-stream the meetings on its Facebook page. Meetings will also be available for on-demand viewing on the TCTV website.

The system probably will receive its first major test of its capacity when the Board of Finance and Town Council begin their actual budget deliberations later this month.

“For a normal meeting, you don’t really have very many people in the chamber, but budget hearings are usually pretty full,” he said. “Plus people may have run out of things to watch on Netflix by then, so maybe they log on and watch the council meeting.”