By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward County took a step toward greater government transparency last month with the start-up of a new system of on-demand video for commission meetings and public hearings.
The changes mean the public can now access online archived videos of county meetings and hearings for anytime viewing. Comprehensive agenda information and minutes are also available. The new video archive began with the commission’s August 12th meeting.
BrowardBulldog.org reporter William Hladky reported last October that Broward was the only county in southeast Florida, and the only major government within the county, that did not archive its recorded commission meetings for later on-demand viewing by the public.
“The public is far better served as a result of this,” said Commissioner Lois Wexler, who led the county’s push to implement on-demand video. “That story empowered me with information about the situation. I never realized how many cities and counties had it and we didn’t.”
Broward commission meetings and hearings continue to be broadcast live on cable television and online. Before, however, viewers were limited to catching either the live daytime broadcast, a rebroadcast later in the week, or filing a public records request to obtain a DVD copy of the session at a cost of $8 plus postage.
Wexler said getting the system up and running was “like pulling teeth” due to resistance to on-demand video “from within the organization itself.”
“The party line was that it was about money. At first it was said the cost would be around $150,000 or a quarter of a million dollars. Numbers were thrown out to scare people, but it wasn’t about the money,” said Wexler.
In a May 9 memo, County Administrator Bertha Henry told commissioners “the costs associated with the software and maintenance is approximately $15,000 in addition to some part time staff assistance and minor renovation in the back video area, which I will secure from internal sources.”
The implementation of the video-on-demand system was accompanied by a new web site that county officials said displays information in so-called “responsive design” that “makes content more readily accessible across multiple mobile devices, including Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.”
Commission meeting videos include embedded agenda item numbers that viewers can use to fast forward to discussions of interest. Meeting agendas and back-up material are also available.
The county’s use of on-demand video comes a decade after the county began live webcasting of its meetings online.
The county commission holds regular meetings on Tuesday. County officials said videos “will typically be available for on-demand viewing by noon each Wednesday.”