Members of the City and Borough of Juneau City Assembly during a Zoom meeting on Jan. 10, seconds before a caller disrupted the meeting in a Zoom bombing episode. (Screenshot)

Members of the City and Borough of Juneau City Assembly during a Zoom meeting on Jan. 10, seconds before a caller disrupted the meeting in a Zoom bombing episode. (Screenshot)

Officials to consider ‘Zoom bombing’ ordinance after disruptions

There’s been two separate incidents this week.

Two separate Zoom bombing episodes this week have City and Borough of Juneau officials ready to revisit an ordinance introduced — but not passed — last year to make the act a crime.

During Monday evening’s City Assembly meeting, a caller interrupted the public comment section and made inappropriate and suggestive comments which singled out Assembly member Carole Triem.

According to Triem, a similar episode happened earlier in the day at the Systemic Racism Review Committee. In that incident, the caller shared pornography.

“It’s really aggressive and creepy,” Triem said in a Wednesday morning interview with the Empire. “It’s super disruptive. It just makes everyone feel bad.”

It’s not the first time Triem has endured inappropriate comments from a Zoom caller.

A similar incident occurred in August 2020. After that incident, city staff members developed a process to shut the caller down quickly, and the strategy worked Monday night.

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During the evening meeting, City Clerk Beth McEwen and CBJ municipal attorney Robert Palmer acted quickly to mute the caller and asked for an immediate recess.

When the meeting resumed a few minutes later, Mayor Beth Weldon addressed the issue and expressed disappointment.

“Monday’s meeting was way better,” Triem said. But, she said that even with a quick end, the call’s effects linger.

“You can shut it down really quickly, but the impact is the same,” she said, adding that she’d prefer to see a focus on prevention.

Legislative options

Last February, the Human Resources Committee members asked Palmer to draft an ordinance making it a crime to Zoom bomb meetings in the city and borough.

In a Tuesday email, Palmer said CBJ has not yet adopted that ordinance but plans to revisit it.

“We are investigating and need Zoom to cooperate,” Palmer said in an email to the Empire on Tuesday. “Regardless, I will be giving the Assembly Human Resources Committee some legislative options on Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.”

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When the ordinance was introduced last year, Palmer explained that it must be crafted in a way that protects first amendment freedoms of speech but prevents threats, obscenities, and disruptive contact.

“Zoom says that if it’s a local crime, they will look into it. They suggested that if the CBJ wants to stop this, it needs to be added to the criminal code. Options are harassment or disorderly conduct,” Palmer said last spring.

What is Zoom Bombing?

According to a description shared with city officials last year, Zoom bombing is the term for joining a meeting anonymously and showing inappropriate images or making comments that are lewd, threatening, obscene, or disruptive and out of context.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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