by Roger Stonebanks, citizen reporter
Saanich council awarded a contract on April 24 to webcast its meetings.
“It’s a good thing to provide access as it increases transparency and documents all the happenings at the council table that don’t get recorded in the minutes,
The contract is worth $205,992 and was from Pacific Audio Works Ltd. (PAW) Council approved a staff report for a media system to be installed that will provide dedicated internet service for five years. Funding for annual operating items, allocated at $56,000, is available from existing IT and Legislative operating budgets.
“We hope to have it up and running in the next two months,” Coun. Colin Plant told Saanich Voice Online.
“At this point it has not been determined if we will be contracting with PAW to run the webcasting equipment during meetings or if Saanich staff will do that.
“Our collective agreements would not prevent us from exploring this. Keeping cost down would be my primary
goal in such a decision, although proficiency in operating the equipment is also very important.”
Plant welcomed council’s decision “because webcasting provides another layer of transparency to our local government activity that currently does not exist in Saanich. It will allow residents, the media and indeed the world to better engage and learn about the activities happening in Saanich.”
The staff report referred to the “media system” for “council meetings and other scheduled events.” Plant told SVO “I would certainly hope so” when asked if this would include webcasting of public hearings and council’s committee of the whole.
In neighbouring Central Saanich municipality, Coun. Zeb King was asked by SVO – has community connection and interest increased? – since it introduced webcasting of council meetings in 2013, following North Saanich municipality.
“Anecdotally I can confirm that the webcasting has been a huge benefit to citizens,” he replied.
“I hear from many people who watch the videos. Citizens can go back and watch actions that they didn’t quite understand at the meeting, or those who couldn’t attend a meeting can catch up.
“I’ve also seen how it can help staff who may not have accurately recorded a motion or might have missed something important and this allows them to double check for the official record which is the minutes of the meeting.”
King added that “generally people are happy to know it is there when they need it. The minutes don’t capture body language or even the important discussion that occurred prior to a vote.”
He did not think public attendance at council meetings has gone up or down based on webcasting. “People use it as a tool kind of like they might go to the minutes of a meeting only if they needed it.”
Central Saanich Coun. Alicia Holman told SVO she thought that community connection and interest in council has increased – “I hear people say they like to watch the meetings from home and it’s convenient to do that at a time that suits them.” She also believed it helps involve more people.
“It’s a good thing to provide access as it increases transparency and documents all the happenings at the council table that don’t get recorded in the minutes,” she said. “This helps to keep council accountable.”