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Google Hangouts among ways Aleppo officials' want to visibility

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Aleppo residents soon could be able to watch commissioner meetings without having to leave their homes.

Commissioners voted last month to authorize live streaming of meetings that could include using Google Hangouts — a live chat and video conferencing platform.

Vice President Matthew Doebler, who leads the township's communications committee, said residents could view meetings within the next three months.

Adding live broadcasts via the Internet is part of a greater plan to increase communication with Aleppo residents, said Doebler, who was elected to the board last year.

“We need to come up with better ways of communicating with residents,” he said.

Doebler said expecting residents to have a “physical presence at meetings is a 20th century belief.”

“We can't expect residents to be present and assume it's the only way they can get information about their government,” he said.

Using Google Hangouts would let residents watch meetings live and offer an archive of meetings.

Residents would visit www.aleppotownship.com to view meetings.

Aleppo would become the first Sewickley Valley municipality to live-stream meetings. It also would become one of a growing number of governing bodies across the country to use Google Hangouts.

A Google spokesperson said the company does not have specific metrics to share relating to the number of governing bodies using Hangouts, but added that the company is seeing a growing interest from government officials connecting with citizens using the service.

Montgomery County Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Josh Shapiro said his county's use of Google Hangouts for a town hall meeting held last week was effective.

About twice as many people watched and took part online in the town hall meeting than who attended in person, Shapiro said.

Those using Google Hangouts were able to submit questions before the event and communicate live with Shapiro, who used his laptop in the Norristown meeting.

“I have found the use of social media to engage the public to be extraordinarily effective,” Shapiro said.

“My belief is that in order to be an effective public servant, you have to engage with the public through a multitude of mediums.”

With a population of just under 2,000, Aleppo pales in size to the roughly 1 million people who call Montgomery County home. County meetings there already are streamed live online, and have been for two years, but Shapiro said with more publicity, future events using Google Hangouts could see bigger audiences.

Offering residents a chance to see the meetings on their time is why Doebler said he hopes Aleppo residents will use the service when it's live.

“My expectation is that by providing information to residents in a way that is convenient to them, we will educate them on the issues facing the township,” he said.

Doebler said cable access television could be costly.

All of the equipment necessary to live-stream Aleppo meetings has been cobbled together by township leaders, meaning the service isn't expected to cost residents money.

In Moon, supervisors meetings are broadcast live the first Wednesday of the month on Moon Area Government Television, or MAG-TV — one of two cable channels run by the township, Moon spokeswoman Alexis Sergeant said.

Township and Moon Area School Board meetings are replayed on the community's government channel and are available online.

MAG-TV produces meetings of Coraopolis Borough, Cornell School Board and Crescent Township Supervisors.

Those meetings are not broadcast live and are not available online, but do replay on MAG-TV, Sergeant said.

Doebler said he hopes Aleppo continues to find ways to reach out to residents.

“We can be a model for future technological communications for communities not just in the Sewickley Valley, but across Pennsylvania,” he said.

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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