After a brief discussion of available options, the council gave its unanimous approval on May 9 to an initiative by Mayor Maryann Derwin to install voice-activated microphones, most likely before July 1. Each council member will have one, staff will have three, and presenters and members of the public will have a portable version.
To conserve their useful lives, the microphones will be used for meetings of the council, the Architectural & Site Control Commission and the Planning Commission, and not for meetings of the many other advisory committees.
The system is meant to ease the task of the transcription service and to help everyone hear when the room is full, according to a staff report. The outlay by the town, including purchase and installation, is $8,754.
Some Portola Valley residents get nostalgic in response to change, particularly change that has the tone of portraying the town as a city. What is now the realm of the professional -- public works, for example -- used to be done by volunteers, a source of civic pride in longtime residents.
Councilman Ted Driscoll, in his fifth term on the council, remarked that microphones seemed a bit "municipal" to him.
But others see such changes as reason to celebrate, including Ms. Derwin. "I love it," she said of the prospect of microphones. "I've been waiting for this since the first day I came on the council."
"I agree with Ted," Councilman John Richards said. "It feels a little municipal."
"I'm wistful," Mr. Driscoll said. The microphones may be create an impression that the council is "talking down" to the public, he added.
"When we have a lot of people here and people are talking loud, people can't hear," Ms. Derwin replied.
"I agree with Maryann," said Councilwoman Ann Wengert.