By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
Unlike most local governments, the Broward County Commission limits the amount of sunlight that shines on its meetings.
Broward is the only county in Southeast Florida, and the only major government in Broward County, that does not archive its recorded commission meetings for later on-demand viewing online by the public.
Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties, the Broward School Board, and 18 of 31 Broward cities – including Fort Lauderdale – provide on-demand video or audio web viewing. Only Broward’s smaller municipalities lack this service.
More than 85 percent of Broward’s population resides in cities that offer on-demand web video or audio viewing of commission or council meetings.
Many governments also provide anytime viewing for meetings that occurred months or even years earlier. For example, Coral Springs has archived online video recordings of every city commission meeting since the start of 2007.
Fort Lauderdale started putting video of every city commission conference and regular meeting online in August 2012. The Broward County School Board keeps videos its meetings available online for the last six months.
Individuals wanting to watch a video of a prior Broward County Commission meeting must file a public records request to obtain a DVD copy of the session. A DVD copy costs $8 plus postage if it is mailed.
The Broward County Commission broadcasts live regular meetings and public hearings on its web page and on cable television. The meetings are re-webcast and most of the time re-broadcast on cable once, at 5:30 pm the Friday following the meetings.
FLORIDA’S SUNSHINE LAW
While Florida’s Sunshine Law only requires governments to keep general written minutes of their proceedings, on demand videos increase transparency by preserving the “richness of the discussion” that leads to decisions, said Carla Miller, founder a non-profit organization called City Ethics that provides local governments with ethics training and programs.
“If you don’t do digital recordings there is a…suspicion,” she said. “Anything that decreases the public trust is not good…Withholding things on line will always bring up suspicion.”
Broward residents have reason to be suspicious. According to the Justice Department, Florida led the nation in federal public corruption convictions between 2000 and 2010.
Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, reported that public corruption was a factor in Forbes Magazine’s decision to list the greater Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area as the seventh most “miserable city” in the United States in 2012. Forbes ranked Miami #1. West Palm Beach was fourth.
Daniel Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, supports on-demand video or audio web access, noting that many people are at work during commission meetings and are only able to watch them later. The Broward Commission meets regularly on Tuesdays starting at 10 a.m. Public hearings begin at 2 p.m.
“There is a difference between transparency and providing easy access,” said Krassner. “Putting them on line would be a best practice for open accessible government.”
Still, there appears to be no urgency to make on-demand video happen any time soon at County Hall.
“There are other things in the pipe line ahead of (on-demand video of commission meetings),” said Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs. Jacobs pointed out that commissioners were briefed last week about efforts to redesign existing county web sites for mobile devices. “We are really excited about it,” she said.
ON-DEMAND SYSTEMS RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE
Jacobs said, too, that Broward’s limited budget hinders archiving videos of commission meetings for on-demand viewing by the public.
In fact, many on-demand systems are relatively inexpensive.
In Jacksonville, the city purchased a $250 digital recording device and after each governmental meeting city staff links an audio recording on its web site for on-demand use.
“It’s not a hard thing to do,” said Carla Miller, who is also director of Jacksonville’s Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight.
Broward School Board spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan said her board’s more sophisticated video system cost $12,485 to operate this year.
Fort Lauderdale pays Granicus, a California corporation, $2,290 a month to operate the city’s on-line video system. Granicus started managing the city’s system in 2012. The city’s startup cost with Granicus was $27,825.
Chaz Adams, Fort Lauderdale’s public information officer, stressed in an email that Granicus’ cost covers not just online web access to meeting recordings but it also covers many aspects of the city’s “workflow management system.”
Government on-demand web services range from the sophisticated to the simple, from the easy to the difficult to access.
Fort Lauderdale’s system is one of the more sophisticated. Once a video recording is selected, that meeting’s agenda appears below the screen. Clicking an agenda item moves the video to that part of the meeting where the item is discussed.
Miami-Dade County’s online video archives feature more than commission meetings. Also to be found are meetings of various committees, including county finance, health and social services, public safety and animal services.
William Hladky can be reached at [email protected]