Council agrees to allow PowerPoint presentstions
June 13, 2008 · Updated 12:35 PM
By PHILIP PALERMO
PowerPoint presentations are still welcome at City Hall after the Federal Way City Council rejected a proposed ban June 6.
The popular software, part of Microsoft Corporations Office application suite, allows users to incorporate images, audio and video into their presentations.
An increasing number of residents have used the presentation software at council meetings as a visual aid during their allotted three minutes of public comment.
In May, Mehdi Sadri, manager of the citys information technology systems department, said the problem is that residents sometimes brought the presentations to City Hall just before a meeting.
Such short notice, he said, gives city staff little or no time to scan the file for any potential viruses or other harmful software before its uploaded to the citys network.
The city, he said, has several safeguards in place for the usual methods of virus infections, including scanning information that comes through the Internet, employee e-mail and files brought from home.
Weve done quite a bit of work in blocking those, Sadri said.
The vulnerability with council meetings, he said, is that the computer in the council chambers, where residents typically upload their files, must be connected to the network to provide access to data for city staff.
That is pretty much a very lax situation, Sadri said.
At the May 2 council meeting, City Attorney Patricia Richardson said they would investigate the legal issues surrounding the use of PowerPoint presentations during the public comment period.
While the city conducted that research, residents wishing to use a PowerPoint presentation were asked to e-mail the file to the city clerk or deliver the file in person by noon the day of the meeting.
Sadri said the citys e-mail scanning software wont allow files that are found to contain viruses.
This is just something that we thought is a simple preventative, he said.
Stuart McClure, senior vice president of global threats at the computer network security firm McAfee, said in a May interview that several organizations also employ guidelines for uploading files.
High-level security areas such as CIA headquarters and the Pentagon have similar security measures, he said.
The benefit of that is obvious because you get to control (the scanning process), he said.
While McClure said he hasnt heard of state, county or city governments receiving viruses through infected PowerPoint presentations, the danger is there.
If youre plugging into their network, then clearly theres a risk, he said. Its not outside the realm of possibility.
At the June 6 meeting, several residents spoke out against an outright ban on PowerPoint presentations, touting their usefulness in delivering complex messages and offered several options for limiting the risk from viruses.
Elisabeth Hardison said the presentations allow residents to present photos, graphs and maps to council and to other residents.
PowerPoint is a very valuable tool, she said. It is a beauty of PowerPoint, everyone is on the same page.
Gayla Hardison, Elisabeths mother, said its not a fear of viruses that motivated the citys call for banning presentations, but rather a fear of being unable to control content.
I urge the city council to rethink this, she said, adding a ban on residents PowerPoint presentations could invite civil rights lawsuits.
Gaylas husband, Frosty Hardison, has been a frequent user of PowerPoint presentations, using them during public comment to state his case regarding the citys panhandling issues and a proposed light rail system.
He had another presentation at the June 6 meeting, where he proposed the city should adopt a strong mayor form of government where residents, not the council, elects the citys mayor.
At one meeting, the final slide of his panhandling presentation was left on monitors at council chambers after he concluded his comments.
Not long after that meeting, the city said it was looking into the legal issues regarding private residents using city resources for campaigning purposes.
At the June 6 meeting, Richardson said the city was concerned with both computer network security and whether residents presentations on city computers was a violation of state laws regarding the use of city equipment.
Other residents also voiced their displeasure about the proposed ban,
I know what a PowerPoint is and Im not afraid to use it, Margaret Nelson said during public comment.
If the city bans residents from using Powerpoint, she said, they should also ban city staff and consultants from using it as well.
Nelson proposed setting up a separate computer, not connected to the citys network, that would be used specifically for residents presentations.
The citizens making public comment want to communicate with you, she said, adding the proposed ban suggests the city doesnt want to receive messages from residents.
Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell said the proposed ban generated more interest than initially thought.
Its a microcosm of a much larger issue of the perception and the reality that we hear the voices of the community, he said.
Ferrell also said it would be unfair to deny residents the use of PowerPoint presentations while allowing city staff to continue using them.
Councilman Jack Dovey recalled his days before serving on the council, when he and a group of other residents pitched a location for Celebration Park.
If it werent for the visual aids and photographic support, he said, we may still not have Celebration Park.
The council voted unanimously to continue allowing residents to use PowerPoint presentations, and directed city staff to come up with a clear set of guidelines for their use.
Staff writer Philip Palermo: (253) 925-5565, email@example.com