BATH — Bath officials are learning how to allow the public participation in online meetings while guarding against unwelcome intrusions after pornographic images and profane language originating from unknown users brought the city council’s first online meeting to an abrupt end earlier this month.

Using the same teleconferencing platform, Zoom, the city council resumed its meeting the following week. While the meeting could be watched live on the city’s website and Bath Community Television, any member of the public who wished to comment on a remaining meeting agenda item needed to email City Clerk Darci Wheeler before 5 p.m. that day.

“The safety measures we’re forced to take will close the meeting to the public, which is unfortunate, but nobody has figured out how to do it differently,” said City Manager Peter Owen.

Marc Meyers, Bath’s assistant city manager, said he contacted the Greater Portland Council of Governments to see what other municipalities and counties have done to protect their online meetings from “Zoom-bombers” while still allowing for live public comments.

“There isn’t really a tool on the market that’s designed for town councils that need to be functioning with public input,” said Zoe Miller, director of community engagement at Greater Portland Council of Governments. “At this point, there are more questions than answers and we need to strike a balance using the tools we have.”

Miller said Zoom’s Webinar setting has proved successful for public meetings because it allows attendees to participate without being on video or having control that would allow them to take over the meeting.

“Remembering not to make the mistake of violating public access rules is the top-level thing,” said Miller.

The Maine Freedom of Access Act requires all public proceedings to be open to the public and any person must be permitted to attend. The law does not require that an opportunity for public participation at open meetings, although many public bodies, including Bath’s City Council, generally offer time for members of the public to weigh in during meetings.

“Ideally, we would like to have our residents to have the same level of participation in public meetings during the state of emergency as they would at a regular meeting,” said Meyers. “We’re hoping to be able to offer something similar for the next city council meeting on April 15.”

Bath City Council will hold another meeting using Zoom at 6 p.m. Wednesday. A meeting link will be posted on the city’s website and on the city’s Facebook page, which will allow people to watch the meeting remotely.

The city also recommends that residents provide public comment on agenda items to Wheeler by 5 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Wheeler can be reached at [email protected], and residents should include “Public Comment” in the email subject line.

The meeting will also be televised on Bath Community Television and available via livestream on the city’s website.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments advises municipalities to make remote meetings “as public as any physical meeting in town hall,” according to an online notice.

“That means residents should be able to enter the meeting at any time and speak during designated public comment periods without any preregistration requirements, such as sending emails to municipal staff before a meeting starts,” the notice reads.

Miller said one benefit of this process is municipalities must make public meetings as accessible as possible, especially to those who can’t physically go to an in-person meeting. It also forces people to consider those who may have problems with vision, hearing, cognitive function, or may simply not have access to a phone or computer.

Falmouth, which experienced a similar Zoom-bombing incident during an online Town Council meeting, has adopted Zoom’s Webinar feature.

According to Falmouth’s online guidelines, public meetings are run by the committee or council chair. Town Councilors, Committee members and town staff are panelists and members of the public who join the meeting are attendees who are allowed to speak at designated times during the meeting.

The town provides a web link to access meetings on the Council agenda prior to the meeting, but residents can also use a phone to access meetings.

Nathan Poore, Falmouth town manager, did not return a request for comment.

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