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$98K Rocklin City Council chambers remodel gets mixed reviews

General fund dollars earmarked for update
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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At a cost of nearly $98,000, the Rocklin City Council chambers at the city’s Administration Building on Rocklin Road is getting a remodel.

Construction crews painted the interior of the chamber, installed a granite slab with the city’s logo on the wall and darkened the wood grain on the council’s raised desk. The old podium was expanded and moved out to the center of the room. Department directors use to sit at the back of the room at a table, now they sit facing the council on either side of the podium at newly constructed desks complete with microphones and monitors. The project called for two 70-inch flat-screen televisions mounted above the audience, as well as a new sound system.

Longtime Councilmember George Magnuson, who’s been using the chamber since the 1990s, likes the new digs.

“This is a great remodeling job and I want to say thank you to staff on my behalf because it looks pretty nice,” Magnuson said.

The project was paid for out of the general fund, as well as a technology fund set aside to be used for citywide technology upgrades, according to the city.

It cost $73,000 for the technology upgrade, in-cluding hardware, software and licensing, and $25,000 for scheduled maintenance and room revisions that included walling off a back corner for a new conference room.

“Costs were within the budgeted amount,” said Rocklin Public Affairs Manager Karen Garner.

Ken Broadway has seen a lot of meetings from the audience. The newly appointed parks commissioner was excited at getting a chance to try it out from a commissioner’s point of view.

“I think it’s terrific,” Broadway said. “I think they’ve done a fantastic job incorporating updated technology, making it easier for the citizens to understand and see what is being discussed during the council meetings. It brings our city up to date.”

The new sound system has been a challenge at various moments during City Council meetings, when some citizens addressing the council were interrupted by mic cutouts and feedback. At a recent meeting, council members had to leave their seats and go into the audience to be able to view a presentation after a malfunction prevented them from seeing some of the materials on their new monitors.

“Just like any new technology, all new implementations come with its challenges,” Broadway said. “I’ve attended a lot of meetings previously, and I think it’s money well spent.”

Long time Parks Commissioner Paul Ruhkala agrees.

“They did a nice job,” he said.

Rocklin resident Ken Rogers, who’s been disabled by a neck injury, found the new layout frustrating.

“Previously (before the remodel), I could sit in the front row of the public seating near the center and look at each and every person (on the council),” Rogers said. “If I sit in a similar seat now, the podium itself severely restricts my vision.”

Rocklin resident Jill Fellows said the expense was unnecessary.

“It’s awful. I thought it was untimely (after a recession) when we’re still trying to get back on our feet,” she said. “It wasn’t necessary. I was disturbed by them spending money on it.”

Fellows, who addresses the council at most meetings, complained the new layout affects the audience presence and participation in a negative way.

 “I don’t think it works. I can’t see all of the council members at all time. The podium and all the people up front block us,” Fellows said.

She said speaking at the oversized podium makes one feel like being on stage.

“Over on the side I felt better,” she said. “It’s less intimidating than right in the middle of the room. I felt like I was on stage and vulnerable.”

Part of the problem may be the old-style theater seats used for the audience that sit low to the ground. Also, more than a dozen seats at the rear were eliminated when the new conference room was walled off. Broadway downplayed the significance.

“It provides a separate conference area which can be utilized by the city, but not only the citizens,” Broadway said. “I think it did eliminate some seating, but most of the time that was staff, which they have accommodated areas now for the staff to sit up front. So they are not actually behind the citizens, which I think better utilizes the room.”

Garner said no changes to the audience seating are planned.

“Audience seating still meets the city’s needs, so there was no need to upgrade or change out,” she said.

Garner said the city did not seek input from the public on the remodel.

“No public input, as this is an operational issue rather than a public policy issue,” Garner said. “Technology upgrades and room maintenance/

rehab were the culmination of input from staff, council, commissions, other groups who use the space on a regular basis, and best practices. Nothing formal.”

Police Chief Ron Lawrence told the City Council at last month’s strategic planning session the new layout, which places him at the front, creates a new security issue for him, as he’s trained to be in the back of the room near the door as the first line of security for the public. Emergency preparedness drills for public meetings are also in the works.

Magnuson said some of the issues could be addressed before the project is final.

“I think they’re going to be working on making it easier for people to address the council,” Magnuson said.

Fellows said citizens should let the city know what they think.

“All we can do is let them know what the concerns are,” she said.

The final project report prepared by city staff is expected to come back to council soon.