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Streaming video, technology upgrades let taxpayers view public meetings online


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Columbus city government will take another step toward transparency Monday when City Council meetings will be streamed live on the Web for the first time.

City officials have spent about $58,000 to upgrade the City Council Chambers in City Hall to allow live meetings to be viewed online.

That total includes the costs of several new microphones, an automated camera, speakers, sound and video mixing equipment, the encoding device and a new presentation system including large-screen televisions and a document projector, said Jeff Logston, the city’s director of operations and finance.

The video will be available through the city’s website, columbus.in.gov, through a link at the top of the page. By default, the meeting will air in a small video box, alongside an agenda for the night’s meeting.

By the morning after a meeting, the video will be archived to the website.

Logston said the streaming video initiative is part of Mayor Kristen Brown’s efforts to improve transparency in city government.

Council member Ryan Brand said that while he thinks there is only a small number of people who will take advantage of the service, the effort toward greater openness is important.

“I think that anything we can do to make the information more accessible to the community is a fantastic idea,” Brand said. “It would be my hope that what we would do is create a community culture that would be more aware of what is going on at City Hall.”

Council member Frank Jerome agreed that few people are likely to watch the video, but that those motivated to follow a particular decision would be able to see exactly what was presented and said.

“I think everybody gets to see how much fun it is,” Jerome joked. “The regulars show up at the meetings, but the general public doesn’t. ... They will get to see, in all its glory, what it is. Whether it is interesting, or boring, they can call it.”

Although the initial plan is to stream City Council, Redevelopment Commission and Board of Public Safety and Works meetings, the city will have the capability to stream any meeting being held in the Council Chambers, Logston said.

As part of the upgrades to the council chambers, the new speakers installed will allow council members to more easily hear the public and for the public to better hear the council, Logston said.

The city will spend $189 a month for the service from Granicus, a nationwide company that specializes in government meeting webcasting, Logston said. The monthly cost will include an archive of an unlimited number of meetings for an unlimited amount of time.

The initial equipment upgrade costs were paid out of the telecommunications fund, with monies generated from fees paid by cable television subscribers. But ongoing monthly costs will be absorbed by the city as part of its regular operating expenses, Logston said.

From their computers, the public will see a wide-angle view of the City Council Chambers that encompasses the council’s bench and most of the first row of the chairs for public seating. Although the initial streaming meetings will be kept simple, the service allows for several upgrades, including allowing the automated camera to zoom in on whoever is speaking, and to air live versions of documents provided to the council. Providing closed captioning and other services are possible but would mean additional fees.

Ultimately the city would like to be able to create links from within older meeting agendas posted to the city website. A viewer could then read the agenda and a click on the link would take them right to the discussion item.

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