Originally created 08/23/96

County will use Internet for interview



Twelve semifinalist candidates for the job of manager of the consolidated government have appointments with the subcommittee screening applicants - in cyberspace.

The subcommittee screening applicants for the job is using video-teleconferencing to interview applicants, technology that could save taxpayers thousands, according to the chairman of the subcommittee charged with screening the applicants.

The subcommittee is scheduled to deliver a short-list of five final candidates to commissioners by Sept. 3. Responses from the 12 semifinalists, who haven't been named, were due Thursday.

"We're left with a choice: either ask taxpayers to foot the bill to bring these people here, or we use video-conferencing," said Merle Temple, chairman for the subcommittee and director of corporate and external affairs for BellSouth in Augusta.

Video-teleconferencing involves the use of computers and high-speed phone lines to let remote parties - which can be an individual or a group - see each other while they're talking.

Corporations increasingly are using video-teleconferencing to save the cost of travel and lodging just to have a meeting.

The subcommittee would have to ask commissioners for an appropriation to cover any costs of bringing applicants to Augusta, but the video-teleconferencing might cost taxpayers next to nothing. Mr. Temple said he's trying to arrange for BellSouth and other carriers to facilitate the interviews.

"It has turned into quite an interesting experience, trying wherever possible to arrange for these people to have access so that it doesn't cost them anything."

The savings also allows some candidates who might not otherwise remain in the applicant pool to stay in, especially those who might not be able to interview another way.

For the local government, this latest savings could add up to $10,000 to $15,000, an estimate confirmed by Donna Williams, assistant comptroller for Augusta-Richmond County.

"Airfare is the biggie," Mr. Temple said. "A round-trip ticket from almost anywhere, on short notice, switching from Atlanta, is a minimum of $500 ... and then there's lodging."

The meetings aren't exactly like having the interviewees in the same room. The quality of the full-motion video isn't quite as good as TV, for example, but it's close.

The system is good enough for subcommittee members to get a sense of who candidates are.

"The desktop conferencing is a great tool for that, especially when you're talking to one person who can sit close to the camera," Mr. Temple said.

A neutral facilitator for the subcommittee will ask questions with the same inflection and tone of voice to each candidate to keep everything fair, he said.

"That frees us up to listen," Mr. Temple said.