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Public meetings of neighborhood associations are testing out Zoom and other teleconferencing alternatives.

COURTESY  - An example of a group meeting held on the videoconference platform Zoom is shown here. Boomers became Zoomers at the board meeting of the coalition of neighborhood groups called Southwest Neigthborhoods Inc. Wednesday night.

It's the type of meeting held monthly by such coalitions across Portland. While some have canceled meetings, others, like SWNI, decided to give the videoconferencing app called Zoom a try.

PMG PHOTOS: BILL GALLAGHER - Large meetings like this one held by the Multnomah Neighborhood Association at the Multnaomh Arts Center in September, 2019, may not be possible with videoconferencing applications."On the revised agenda, all in favor raise your blue hand," said SWNI president Leslie Hammonds, referring to the Zoom voting feature.

"Where is my blue hand?" asked one participant.

"Look to the bottom of your screen," said another.

"I see it. Thanks."

"Fifteen blue hands vote yes. Are there any no votes," asked Hammond.

The revised agenda was approved. So was SWNI's financial report. Both without debate. The meeting was short. It ended abruptly when Zoom's 40-minute time limit for free meetings ran out. Two members of the board, which is made up of the leaders of 17 neighborhood associations, said they would be happy to pay the $14.99 a month it would cost to get unlimited Zoom time for future meetings.

Hammond said afterwards in an email that she was satisfied with the "test run."

 "I am very optimistic about virtual meetings.  They have all kinds of advantages. In times like these it allows people to connect quickly and to talk through an issue or a need," she wrote.

Some of the neighborhood associations that are members of SWNI have scheduled their own virtual meetings. Others are still assessing the technology available. (For a complete schedule of meetings and what arrangementas are being made see www.SWNI.org)

One of the participants in the meeting, Marie Thi Mai, president of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, said she'll try running a virtual general membership meeting in April, "But the technology is awkward for a lot of people."

She said she's not sure how well Zoom would work for large meetings.

"Mayor Wheeler is supposed to talk to us in May. He's been doing some virtual meetings, but we'll probably hold off having him until June or later."

A spokesperson for Mayor Wheeler, Tim Becker, said while the mayor hasn't done any neighbohood meetings by Zoom, he's come to rely on the videoconferencing app.

"The Mayor's office is finding the Zoom app to be extremely convenient and effective. From March 16-26, he has been in on 19 Zoom meetings. We have also used Zoom to do roughly 7 different video interviews this week alone," he wrote in an email.

Sylvia Bogert (l), executive director of Southwest Neighbors Inc., and Leslie Hammond (r) president of the coalition of 17 Southwest Portland Neighborhood groupsHammond of SWNI said holding virtual neighborhood association meetings is essential in these unprecedented circumstances.

"Video conferencing brings people together in our neighborhoods in a way we have not seen before except in our jobs.  It is an exciting new tool to keep people connected and improving our neighborhoods. Its time has come.  I hope we use it often in the future," she wrote.

Zoom is just one of the various videoconferencing apps available but it has become the go-to choice for millions of homebound people around the world for everything from virtual class rooms to virtual cocktail parties. Zoom can host up to 100 participants at a time while Microsoft's Skpe can handle 50.

Zoom was founded nine years ago by an immigrant from China who was in charge of the WebEx platform for Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley. Eric Yuan, son of Chinese mining engineers, left Cisco to start Zoom in 2011. He started selling stock in Zoom in 2019 and its value went to $19 billion. Since the demand for the service sparked by Covid 19, its value has risen to $40 billion.

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