The Kent County Commissioners are considering live webcasting of commissioners’ meetings, the Kent County News reported this week. Taking a simple approach of pointing a webcam at the table where the elected officials sit and using the existing wired microphones, the neighboring county believes this can be done inexpensively. They’ve instructed the Director of Information Technology to do it “as cheaply as possible.”
In Cecil County, Commissioner Diana Broomell has long served as an advocate for using streaming methods to increase public awareness and participation in public proceeding. As a candidate, she talked about the potential of the web for increasing transparency and participation. But the previous board came to the conclusion that start-up costs would approach $700,000 while annual upkeep would be between $200,000 and $300,000. When the county released those figures in October, 2010, about a month before the election, the candidate pointed out the cost-effectiveness and simplicity of a system similar to the one Kent is considering.
For the Town of Elkton the challenge was different. After months of arguing over whether it should stream videos of meetings on the Net, town commissioners finally agreed to move ahead in order to increase public awareness as it was argued at that time. But following the loss of a lawsuit where the video was going to be used as evidence, Mayor Fisona suddenly reversed the practice. Not only did the mayor stop putting videos of workshops on the Internet, but he also stopped a long-standing practice of taping those meetings. This was a major step backwards as far as transparency and openness in government was concerned.