City Council Broadcast Upgrades

12/12/08
Guy Midkiff

One of my campaign pledges was to push for an upgraded Audio Video system for City Council and Planning and Zoning meetings. It has been a long road (almost 1 year) but we are nearing a resolution.

The Problem: The technology currently being employed is 70’s technology and has substantial reliability issues. Some nights people have to adjust their TV sets volume because the broadcast volume can vary dramatically. Other nights the video is of such poor quality that the user is relegated to audio only. And then some nights there are no broadcasts at all.

The Solution: We have looked at several vendors through the public bid system. We will upgrade the audio/video portion, first. Also, we will burn the meetings onto DVD’s that will probably be available in the library or city hall. This should restore the system to a minimally acceptable level. My suspicion is this will be as far as we go until we get a better idea on where the economy is headed.

The Controversy: There always has to be a controversy – its government. The problem I have pointed out is that the proceedings are only broadcast on Charter Channel 10. If you are like me, I don’t use Charter, instead I use Dish. So residents like myself are out of luck. I have suggested we use a vendor called Granicus. They are a nation-wide provider of web casting. Webcasting allows the user to watch public proceeding live on their computers, or down load them at a more convenient time. Granicus specializes in this new technology, that is currently used across the country. St Charles is now using this system. (Go Here to see it.)

The reason I like the system is because it is not a boot-strap operation, as would be a youtube broadcast (more on this later.) The system uses key wording and agenda-by-item to index the broadcast. What that means to the user is that instead of have to sit through a 3 hour presentation, you can type in your key word, i.e. “red light camera” and presto, it will take you to that exact portion of the broadcast. This is a very powerful function.

The cost would be the initial set-up charge and about $550 per month. Granicus would house our content, so it would not burden the city’s computers. Granicus would handle upgrades and maintenance. Some are arguing that this system costs to much. While I am a devout fiscal conservative, I can think of no more important duty for me than to ensure “all” citizens have access to public proceedings. In my view, it is almost a sacrilege to put a price on transparency in government. I agree we have to be prudent in all expenditures, but to say .0003 of our budget, spent on a broadcast system that can be viewed by anyone that has access to a computer (and remember, the library has free computers with internet) is ridiculous. The same story is true for the argument that only “x” amount of people will actually use the service. This blog, you are reading, gets on average, 40 hits (views) per day. I suspect the viewership will slowly ramp-up over time. The key is availability, though, and government should do all it can to make sure all government proceeding are in the full view of the public. We are spending your money, folks.

Some have emailed me suggesting we put the proceedings on youtube – that is free. Ok, who is going to do that? We will have to pay for someone to compile and upload the meetings to youtube and also link them to the city website. All of which takes time, all of which is not free. And at the end of the day, you are left with a boot-strapped operation that is not professional, is not user friendly, and is not free.

The Missourian has written against the use of webcasts and no doubt, they do a yeoman’s job consistently reporting on all city meetings. But they do get it wrong from time to time. With a webcast it would be 100% accurate for obvious reasons. Webcasts would also present a clear and present danger to any newspaper that has about 50% of its content consisting of local and area government issues. Webcasts would clearly compete with the Missourian. (See ” An Unnecessary Cost?” eMissourian, 11/18/08.)

John Adams spoke to us directly when he wrote to Abigail in April of 1777: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it.”

Transparency in government should not be taken for granted. We are the “Posterity” he was speaking of. An informed citizenry is the first step in preserving democracy.

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Published in: on December 13, 2008 at 11:51 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. Mr. Midkiff-

    My name is xxxxxxxxxx and I am a citizen of Washington in your ward. I am writing you about the subject of webcasting the council meetings.

    I think that before the decision to webcast the meetings is made, a few things need to be asked.

    1. What if someone at City Hall took the broadcast that is played on Charter Cable, saved it, and then put in on a city website the next day? That certainly would come at a much cheaper price then a live webcast.

    2. Is it $12,000 a fair price to ask for this service? I would imagine that if the city would ask one of the local internet providers like YHTI about their price it may a good deal lower.

    3. Is it really necessary to do a live webcast? How many people would actually watch a live webcast? I bet I could count that number on one hand.

    So if there are cheaper ways (and that is only an educated guess) to put the meetings on the web, why are we not exploring these options? It certainly makes a lot more sense to me than jumping into this $12, 000 agreement without looking around first.

    If you have any questions for me on this subject, my dad is a professional video editor and would be glad to discuss possible options with you.

    Thanks,

  2. Dear Council Members,
    Please don’t approve the proposal to webcast Washington city council meetings. Other options for making the meetings available to all citizens come to mind.
    1) Make more than one video copy of the meetings. One can be kept in the archives and the others can be available for circulation. It takes very little time to make copies of DVDs.
    2) The minutes are already available on the city web site. I see that some of the minutes report the meetings verbatim. Extend the verbatim report so that all of the meeting is included. Digital pictures can be taken of any charts/exhibits used during the meetings and the pictures can be added to the minutes.
    3) The meetings are already open to the public. If someone wants to know exactly what is happening, she/he can attend the meetings.
    I do not have access to channel 10 on my television but I am able to access the council meetings in one of the three ways listed above.
    The story about the webcasting proposal appeared below the fold of the November 15th Missourian. Above the fold is the headline “Food Pantries Describe Dire Situation Here.” Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Marie Antoinette told the starving people of Paris to eat cake when they couldn’t afford bread. Both of those stories are fiction. No one in Washington wants our city to be the city that in fact spent money on new technology that is not essential to life while members of our community are wondering where the next pay check or next meal will be coming from.
    Sincerely,
    Dxxxxxxxxxx
    Ward 4


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