News

Council moves closer to televised meetings

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Islanders will be able to channel-surf with the City Council come June. Archived meetings will also allow them to surf through past meetings on the city’s Web site.

Last Monday, the Council approved, 5-1, spending the money to install four cameras in their Chambers at City Hall to broadcast their bimonthly meetings on cable television station 21 and produce a video archive online. Only Councilmember El Jahncke opposed the motion, and Councilmember Mike Grady was absent.

According to communications coordinator Joy Johnston, it will take the next three months to set up the equipment. She hopes to begin televising at the June 16 meeting. The media system will cost taxpayers about $10,000 a year, not including extra funds to install the equipment, or about $250 a meeting. Council meetings are regularly scheduled on the first and third Monday of each month.

“This is just one more way the Council is reaching out to citizens to make sure they have the information they need to participate fully in their city government,” said Johnston, who became the communications coordinator in May 2006 after the Council created the position.

The total cost of the project, $110,765, includes equipment purchase and establishing a control room in the basement of City Hall. However, about $92,000 of that has already been funded with the $200,000 Education and Government Grant By J. Jacob Edel

Mercer Island Reporter

Islanders will be able to channel-surf with the City Council come June. Archived meetings will also allow them to surf through past meetings on the city’s Web site.

Last Monday, the Council approved, 5-1, spending the money to install four cameras in their Chambers at City Hall to broadcast their bimonthly meetings on cable television station 21 and produce a video archive online. Only Councilmember El Jahncke opposed the motion, and Councilmember Mike Grady was absent.

According to communications coordinator Joy Johnston, it will take the next three months to set up the equipment. She hopes to begin televising at the June 16 meeting. The media system will cost taxpayers about $10,000 a year, not including extra funds to install the equipment, or about $250 a meeting. Council meetings are regularly scheduled on the first and third Monday of each month.

“This is just one more way the Council is reaching out to citizens to make sure they have the information they need to participate fully in their city government,” said Johnston, who became the communications coordinator in May 2006 after the Council created the position.

The total cost of the project, $110,765, includes equipment purchase and establishing a control room in the basement of City Hall. However, about $92,000 of that has already been funded with the $200,000 Education and Government Grant funds the city received in 1995.

“I’ve been pushing for this since I joined the Council five years ago,” said Councilmember Steve Litzow. “I am excited that we are finally getting there. I think the transparency is also getting us closer to our customers, the citizens.”

An amendment to the motion by Jahncke and supported by the Council requires Johnston to come back for approval of an operations policy which would dictate the rules of filming.

“I want to know who is going to decide who is on TV,” Jahncke said. “You can not just have any videographer come in because anything you do will be political. The videographer needs to be sensitive of what’s going on.”

Johnston said she could have the plan ready in about two months to address Jahncke’s concerns. The videographer will be hired based on skill and affordability, she said. Johnston also told the Council that Mercer Island had the benefit from waiting to do this as several other cities preceded them.

“There is a huge variety in how other jurisdictions film their meetings,” Johnston said. “It depends on the staff available but the actual filming is pretty standard,” Johnston said.

Other Eastside communities and most government agencies in the county broadcast their meetings. Johnston visited the chambers for Bothell, Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville as part of research into the set-up. She also met representatives from a company that did some of their installation.

“We were able to get some sense of need,” Johnston said. “With four remote controlled cameras in the room, we would be able to film both podiums and all the Councilmembers.”

Jahncke said he did not support televised meetings because it would affect the way the Council operates and would not improve its transparency.

“Those who care about and want to address an issue are free to do so here,” Jahncke said. “Time after time, we have large turnouts on a particular issue. I don’t think it’s necessary to change the tenor of how the Council operates and how we perform up here.”

Changing the tenor of the Council was not something the two members fretted upon.

“There are lots of people who want to get here, and it’s not about transparency, but watching the Council work,” said Councilmember Mike Cero. “I’ve been impressed with the last four or five meetings and I think it will continue that way. This is a positive step.”

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