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Handful of Missoula council members break through tech problems to deliver message of unity

Posted at 10:20 AM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 12:20:49-04

MISSOULA — Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting turned into a crash course on resolving audio interference and technical issues with Zoom – and trying to do it in real time.

As businesses across the city have returned to opening and increasing their occupancy, both the Missoula City Council and Board of County Commissioners continue to conduct businesses over digital streaming media.

At times it has worked, though on occasion it has not. It crashed on Monday night, forcing Mayor John Engen to call the meeting to recess. The meeting reconvened 50 minutes after commencing, though the problems hadn’t been resolved despite the valiant efforts of city staff.

It’s not often that the presentation becomes news.

“My apologies,” Engen said. “We’ll get this dialed in next week.”

It was an unfortunate setback, given that several members of the council took the evening to address the national crisis unfolding in cities across America. The thoughts and comments of Missoula’s elected officials, however, were largely unintelligible and went unheard.

As state and federal troops closed in on Washington, D.C., firing tear gas and rubbers bullets into a peaceful crowd to clear the way for the president to hold a photo opp at a nearby church, Monday night’s City Council meeting couldn’t overcome technology until most members had spoken.

It wasn’t immediately known if the meeting would count as an official public hearing, given that most of the event was unintelligible due to a prolonged echo. No public hearings were on the agenda, though one proclamation was read.

Roughly 55 minutes into the meeting, the challenging echo vanished just as council member Heidi West was speaking. However, she quickly changed the subject from civil rights to painting and a call for art.

Council member Mirtha Becerra spoke on her minority status and the challenge facing a large segment of the American population.

“It’s been a very difficult week, but for our black brothers and sisters, it’s been a difficult couple hundred years. I’d never considered myself a minority until I moved to this county. I adopted and embraced this county with all its wonderful qualities, and with its flaws.

“So when I check the box under Hispanic, I do it happily, because I truly embrace living in a diverse country. My lighter skin color and my now more-polished accent are the places I have chosen to live in and have afforded me opportunities not many other minorities can enjoy. Had my parents been darker skin-color humans, it might have been an entirely different story.”

Becerra then went on to discuss the inspiration she has drawn from the peaceful demonstrators seeking change, saying it’s time to have a community conversation on such issues. She then quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions,” she said. “Today, our very survival depends upon our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant, and to face the challenge of change.”

Council member Sandra Vasecka didn’t address the issue but spoke instead on the need to vote in Tuesday’s consequential election. Council member Stacy Anderson – the last to speak under normal audio conditions – did address the issue.

“I have struggled trying to put all of this into words, recognizing the privileged position I have in the community and the circumstances to which I was born into. I have looked around and seen so many of the images of the last several days and seen the pain and frustration of tens of thousands of Americans. I share that frustration and heartache. It breaks my heart that the American experiment is failing so many of our fellow Americans.”