The Oakland County Board of Commissioners is working on a plan to live stream on the Internet its full board and committee meetings, following submission of a General Government Committee recommendation that the county approve a one-year contract with SoundQue Multimedia to make various county meetings available for viewing on the Web. County commissioners are expected to send that recommendation to another committee for some more study on the full cost of such an endeavor, so the initiative isn’t a done deal. However, like we did a week ago in this space, when we encouraged the Wolverine Lake Village Council to back a proposal to stream video of the village’s public meetings, we’re urging the county to do the same — so long as the true, final costs aren’t exorbitant.
SoundQue Multimedia, a Trenton, Mich.-based company, received a contract recommendation from an ad hoc committee studying the proposal. The county board’s General Government Committee referred the plan to the full board, which is expected to send the proposal back down to the Finance Committee so more concrete cost figures can be hashed out, according to Commissioner John Scott (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield), who serves on the General Government Committee.
Scott has said commissioners need to know the actual dollars involved in streaming live video of county meetings on the Internet, indicating there are concerns that the project may contain some hidden, or overlooked costs. He added that he’ll support the measure and that he, in the past, has brought forward resolutions calling for the online streaming of board and committee meetings.
Commissioner Gary McGillivray (D-Madison Heights), who served on the three-member ad hoc committee studying the issue, said that while the first Internet meeting broadcast date is “still up in the air,” the county board is shooting for sometime in April.
The proposed one-year pact with SoundQue Multimedia to live stream the full board and committee meetings is pegged at about $48,000, according to McGillivray.
We’re in full agreement with Scott, McGillivray and others that making meetings of the county Board of Commissioners and its several committees more accessible to the public is an important and worthwhile exercise. McGillivray is right when he says fair and open government is “absolutely essential.” He notes that many of Oakland County’s cities, villages and townships are either televising their public meetings on cable or using the Internet to live stream their public sessions, yet the county hasn’t finalized its own approach to broadcasting meetings.
Commissioners have been working on plans to broadcast — in one manner or another — their public meetings for at least a year. It was last February that Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Gingell (R-Lake Orion) appointed three commissioners to forge a recommendation on broadcasting meetings.
In late September, the Board of Commissioners endorsed a temporary, pilot program involving three community cable producers. Under that project, Bloomfield Community Television on behalf of the Birmingham Area Cable Board, Civic Center Media on behalf of the Greater West Bloomfield Cable Communications Commission, and Orion Neighborhood Television on behalf of the Orion Community Cable Communications Commission were tapped to record, produce and webcast the county board’s remaining meetings for the 2011 calendar year.
We’ve always supported the idea of televising or webcasting county board meetings so more people can witness commissioners in action. Ideally, members of the public would come to the meetings in person, but that’s not always possible given various professional and personal commitments, so broadcasting the meetings would enhance public access.
And we concede we now like the idea of streaming video of the county meetings on the Web more so than merely broadcasting them live or after the fact on cable. With the proliferation of mobile devices — laptop computers, smart phones, and tablets — streaming county meetings on the Internet would make them accessible by the public anywhere a wireless Web connection is available.
Yet, we can appreciate the concerns about costs. Like just about everywhere else, the county has had to tighten its belt in recent years as revenues have dwindled. Employees have had to shoulder wage and benefit cuts, and many county departments have had to curtail or eliminate programs, so commissioners must tread cautiously when it comes to expenses, particularly new ones such as the streaming meeting video project.
So long as the current proposal doesn’t cost significantly more than the $48,000 cited by McGillivray, it should be implemented. Frankly, we’re not sure how much more would be an acceptable expense, but are confident that commissioners will make a fair and reasonable determination on that.