Error caused Overland Park staff to underestimate cost of live streaming council meetings by about $60,000 a year

A major error interpreting operating costs has caused the Overland Park City Council to rethink how it will provide live stream and archived videos of city meetings.

Last month the council voted to draw up a contract with Swagit Productions, LLC, a Dallas company that specializes in video of government meetings. At the time of the vote, the cost was thought to be $50,000 for one-time installation followed by $8,000 to $10,000 a year to operate.

But when staffers began work on the contract, they discovered they had misread the pricing structure. The annual operating costs would be $71,040, not $8,000 to $10,000. “As we sifted through a variety of information of one-time and ongoing costs we misinterpreted basically monthly costs as an annual cost,” said Deputy City Manager Kristy Stallings, who offered the staff’s “deepest apologies.”

That would have paid for live streaming and archived videos of all city council, planning commission and council committee meetings, along with closed captioning and indexing of the videos to the agenda. It would also have given viewers the ability to see presentation slides during the meeting.

But since the cost estimate was so far off, the council will have to re-open the discussion at its next meeting about what level of video services to provide and how much to pay.

Members of the council’s finance, administration and economic development committee took a look at the options Wednesday. They settled on the lowest-level, lowest-cost option to recommend to the council. However some of the six-member committee said they were primarily voting to let the entire council decide.

The committee looked at four options that were further divided based on the number of meetings to be taped. Three of the options were different levels of service from Swagit. The fourth was to continue using the city’s own camera and posting on YouTube.

The Swagit offerings all index the agenda, meaning a viewer could call up the section of the meeting devoted to a particular item without having to fast forward through. They also store video for on-demand viewing. The main differences in the Swagit’s tiers have to do with camera work that picks out individual speakers and closed captioning.

The fourth option, which is the one the committee voted on, keeps things the way they are with no agenda indexing and machine-generated closed captioning in the YouTube file available after the meeting. Presentation slides also cannot be viewed.

The costs for each level are based on the number of meetings. Covering council, all council committees and planning commission is the highest cost option, but councilmember Logan Heley noted that the city could still get a high level of service at a lower cost by covering fewer meetings. The city could leave out the various committees and just stick to council, planning commission and committee of the whole meetings for about $40,000. City council only could be taped for $24,720, which is cheaper than the $30,000 the city would pay to continue things as they are, Heley said.

Not using an outside service like Swagit would also put more burden on the city staff to keep equipment running correctly during the meetings, some pointed out. Swagit provides its own staff to remotely operate the cameras.

“I think this is beyond a feel-good thing. I think if we want to compete as a Class A city and compete across the country as a place to live, we really need to implement this and be in the 21st Century,” said councilmember Fred Spears.

Councilmember Richard Collins suggested the council wait a while before spending more for a higher level of videography. “I think we were under the impression – perhaps mistakenly, I don’t know – that this was something for which there was a large hue and cry from the citizens of Overland Park,” he said.

Collins said his Ward 6 constituents have not appeared interested in the issue. He also pointed to viewership numbers of the first meetings on YouTube. About 385 people watched the first meeting either live or on tape.

“It doesn’t look like we’ve got a lot of folks in the city of Overland park who really care about watching this for any length of time.” he said.

Councilmember Paul Lyons, who has been one of the main backers of video streaming, said he was happy with the numbers, though. “I wouldn’t have expected thousands of people looking at this. The numbers are pretty much what I would have expected.” he said.

“To me this has been a long time coming,” for the 10 years he has been on the council, he said. “I don’t see it as something that’s been rushed at all.”