By Roxie Hammill
People who can’t make the Monday night meetings of the Overland Park City Council have a new option, as council member Logan Heley begins to make good on a campaign pledge to live-stream council proceedings online.
Heley got things underway Monday night, beginning with the swearing-in of himself and other council members elected or re-elected in November. The video of the entire council meeting streamed as a Facebook live event and is now posted to Heley’s Facebook page.
The video was shot by high school students Cole Johnson of Shawnee Mission West and Zoey Schneeberg of Olathe East. Cole and Zoey worked on Heley’s campaign for the council. Heley said he’ll continue to ask for volunteer technicians to produce the live-streams, particularly students interested in government who want service hours.
The Facebook video is intended as a first step toward modernizing the way citizens access Overland Park’s open meetings – an effort that will also be taken up by Council Member Paul Lyons later this month.
As it now stands, people who want to listen to a council meeting at home have to request a recording on compact disc from the city clerk’s office. The CD is audio only and costs $1 plus tax to cover the cost. A download of a special computer program is also necessary to listen to the recording, but there’s a free version of that software. There is no live stream available through the city website.
Heley and Lyons say the meeting records need to be easier to get to. “Transparency is very important to me. I think it provides for good governance and I think the expectation the public has for transparency in city government nowadays involves video live-streaming,” Heley said.
Heley said he will continue to live-stream the regular city council meetings. But Lyons has bigger plans. He will ask the city to live-stream the council meetings plus the numerous committee meetings and the planning commission. That idea will be discussed at the city Finance, Administration and Economic Development committee meeting Jan. 31, he said.
Overland Park should be a leader among local governments in putting meeting tapes up for viewing, Lyons argued. Lyons added he pushed for something similar six years ago but there was not much interest from the rest of the council. Now, though, with the election of three new council members and cheaper technology available, he has hopes of getting it done. The remodeling work on the committee meeting room also could be an opportunity for installing some equipment, he said.
“I don’t think the cost is going to be all that much,” Lyons said. It might take a few months to work out the technicalities, but Lyons would like to see something up and running by midyear.
Providing video of the meetings in real time and archives for citizens could be a foundation for a more modern interface with voters down the road, he said. For instance, Lyons would like to explore the idea of some day enabling public comment remotely from people at home.
In the meantime, the meetings will run on Heley’s Facebook page. “It’s not going to be the ideal stream,” Heley said. “It’s only going to cover the regular city council meeting and it’s not going to be closed captioned, it’s not going to be in Spanish. But we wanted to do something to get started.”
Heley’s and Lyons’ actions mirror those of councilmembers in Prairie Village, where councilwoman Serena Schermoly arranged to stream the meetings on her Facebook page for more than a year until a city-managed webcast operation got up and running this month. The cities of Mission and Shawnee currently put video broadcasts of their meetings online. Roeland Park, which archives audio recordings of its meetings on its website, started looking into the option of live-streaming its meetings last year.