Earlier this year, Park County commissioners took a terrific step toward making their meetings more accessible to the public, beginning to offer a live video feed of their proceedings …
Earlier this year, Park County commissioners took a terrific step toward making their meetings more accessible to the public, beginning to offer a live video feed of their proceedings online.
Commissioners started streaming their meetings in the spring, when the pandemic had everyone stuck in their homes. However, they made a great decision to continue the broadcasting when things got a little more back to normal. Now anyone — whether in Powell, Meeteetse or Timbuktu — can tune in and listen in on county business with just a couple of clicks.
However, it remains something of a half-measure. As the county’s website explains:
“The Park County Commissioners have decided to continue broadcasting their public meetings beyond COVID-19 to allow for the public to have easy access to the meetings remotely,” the site says, before offering a buzzkilling addendum: “They will be broadcasts ONLY, no recordings will be made of these meetings.”
For the following reasons, we hope commissioners will take the remote access to the next logical level and start archiving the videos for on-demand viewing.
While the livestreaming opens up the meetings to a broader audience, it remains a relatively small pool of people who have the flexibility to tune in. The cold hard fact is that commission meetings remain among the most inaccessible local government meetings. Unlike, say, the generally less-than-an-hour Powell City Council meetings, commissioners gather for at least several hours.
On Wednesday, for example, the commission is scheduled to meet from 9:30 a.m. to roughly 4 p.m. — and that’s not counting an 8:15 a.m. staff meeting, which is not broadcast online, but is also open to the public.
The board also meets in the middle of the weekday — when most people are working — rather than in the evening. It’s just an inconvenient time for the general public.
The bigger problem, however, is that even when people set aside time to attend a specific item on the commission’s agenda, they may show up and learn they’ve missed it.
Because discussions and decisions can take more or less time than expected, commissioners frequently shuffle their agenda mid-meeting; an item that was initially scheduled for the afternoon might get moved up to the morning, for example.
Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of people walk into the commissioners’ meeting room and find their subdivision has already been approved or another decision made in their absence. Most of the time, it’s for something minor, but there are instances where the issues are more substantial.
A perfect example came last week, when commissioners scheduled an 11:20 a.m. “Discussion on the Facts and Myths about COVID-19” with Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin and Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton.
The commissioners were set to hold three hours of staff meetings beforehand that would not be streamed to the public, but “this [COVID-19] item will be broadcast to the public,” said a message accompanying the Aug. 11 agenda.
However, any folks who navigated to the county’s website at 11:20 a.m. would have been surprised to see that the discussion was already well underway. Most of the myths — about COVID-19 hospital payments and other topics — had already been addressed some 10 minutes earlier. Because the staff meetings ran ahead of schedule, those who logged on or showed up at the scheduled time (as another media member did) missed out.
We understand that plans change and commissioners shouldn’t have to just sit on their hands and wait when they get ahead of schedule. However, publicly announcing one time for a discussion and then changing course at the last minute isn’t ideal governance — especially in the context of a meeting that runs most of the day.
And that’s why online, archived recordings of commission meetings are so important. That way, if, say, an 11:20 a.m. item suddenly becomes an 11:09 a.m. item, there’s still a way for interested members of the public to easily find out what they missed.
This should be an easy step for the county. Multiple services — YouTube and Facebook among them — can be configured to broadcast and automatically archive livestreams at little or no cost. This isn’t a revolutionary concept, either, but a growing trend among local governments. For instance, the Cody and Powell city councils already share video and audio recordings on their respective websites. There’s no good reason for Park County not to join them.