Time to start streaming council meeting is now

streaming council
By Robert Washburn

The local public school board took a major step forward to become more democratic when it announced the live streaming of its monthly meetings earlier this month.

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board chair Cathy Abraham gushed in a press release, saying it was the trustees’ responsibility to be more open, transparent and accountable.

This comes as local municipal councils in West Northumberland are trying to undertake similar initiatives.

The Citizen’s Council of Hamilton Township is actively pursuing the ability to record and post audio and video of meetings to its website. It made the request back in November.

Port Hope council was given a proposal back in July. A report was delivered in October with a request for more time.

Cobourg council has also bantered around the idea, dating back to September with a wink and nudge in its strategic plan, but nothing more concrete has come before council.

The Ontario Ombudsman, in the 2013 Annual Report, advocates all municipalities should be creating live recordings of meetings, rather than the usual note-taking done by the clerk. The report specifically calls for recording of both open and closed sessions. The public would only be able to access the open portions since the same rules under the freedom of information legislation would continue to apply.

Since all minutes of meetings are public records, these recordings should then be available to everyone and could easily be posted to municipal websites.

However, the idea of live streaming goes beyond this aspect, making the actual meeting available in real time. And, while the local cable station provides live broadcasts, there is a huge opportunity to enhance citizen engagement.

The school board and municipal councils should also look at including live, interactive technology, too. A live chat feature along with the live stream would go a long way to allowing citizens to ask questions, make comments and give an added dynamic to this positive idea of streaming meetings.

The technology for live streaming was available in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, the availability and affordability of such technology today makes this an economical enterprise and the platform is now easy for public use.

But, this should not be limited to council meetings. The portability and simplicity of setting up live stream technology means committee meetings, public meetings and events could be made more accessible, as well. This way, people who have accessibility issues or cannot leave home, but are interested in attending, can now take part.

And, by posting recording of all meetings and events, those who cannot attend or watch live, could have access.

If we are lucky, maybe trustees and politicians might start tweeting and using Facebook to let us know what they are up to, as well as receive public commentary.

No doubt, there will also be those who do not use this technology and they must not be forgotten.

But, the school board has led the way. Now, municipal councils have no excuse. Politicians need to quit dragging their heels and embrace 21st century democracy.

Originally published: Column
Feb. 24, 2016

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