Our view: It’s time to stream public meetings in Grand County online
It’s number crunching time at the Grand County administration building this week as county department heads make budget requests to the commissioners. While they’re at it, we’d like to make a modest request ourselves.
The Grand County commissioners should take a bold step into the internet age and stream their meetings live online. Few measures could do more to promote public participation in county governance and more transparent stewardship of public resources. It might go a long way as well toward building public trust in county government.
And, in the greater scheme of a county budget approaching $43 million, the cost is nominal. People knowledgeable about such things say the commissioners’ meeting room is already wired with most of the necessary technology. They say the cost to stream the meetings on the county website and to obtain the requisite digital storage to archive the footage would be about $10,000 annually. Others suggest the cost might be more in the neighborhood of $30,000 per year.
In either case, that’s a lot of bang for the buck. It would allow Grand County citizens anywhere they have a broadband internet connection to watch the meetings as they occur. In a 1,870 square mile county, that’s a far more efficient way to involve constituents than demanding they drive to Hot Sulphur Springs in the middle of a work day.
Of course, all of this rests on a big assumption: that the commissioners and other county officials are genuinely interested in greater public participation and transparency. At this stage, let’s simply stipulate that, in spite of some evidence to the contrary.
After all, the county commissioners aren’t the only elected officials around here who routinely bemoan the fact that more often than not they conduct public business without benefit of a public audience. Most meetings take place in a virtual vacuum.
If citizens could watch the meetings from the comfort of their living rooms and offices, it’s a safe bet some of them would become more involved in the decisions made on Tuesdays in Hot Sulphur Springs. And it sure as heck would be easier than trying to find out what took place at one of those meetings after the fact.
We’re painfully aware of how difficult that can be. Sifting through hours of sound files to locate the pertinent moment can be time consuming and frustrating. Moreover, the norm these days seems to be to make people who are requesting public information fill out official requests.
The county is no different, requiring such a form be filled out for even the most routine requests. And such forms must be submitted in accordance with the county’s public records policy which, at 2,500 or so words, is not exactly a paragon of brevity. (For comparison sake, a full page of type in this newspaper is about 1,500 words.) These formalities are a relatively new aspect of the government landscape and still don’t exist in many places. But we know public business is conducted in its own way on its own time across much of Grand County.
Transparency is the buzzword these days for conducting public business. The county’s website even features a “Government Transparency Portal,” which promptly guides one into a useful, if somewhat Byzantine, maze of forms and archives.
All of which is well and good, but all of which pales in comparison to the transparency that could be accomplished by allowing constituents to “attend” meetings via the internet. Nor is this exactly a ground-breaking notion. Governments of every size, shape and iteration are doing it across Colorado and the nation — and have been for years.
Come to think of it, Grand County’s municipal governments would do well to consider streaming and archiving their meetings as well.
One county commissioner recently told us the county is open to streaming. “We have no problem with it.” Well, let’s see if that’s the case.
We’re aware that the county budget is under pressure this year, but that’s no excuse for inaction. Surely $30,000 can be found in a $42 million-plus budget for something so important.
If it can’t, it’s logical to conclude that county officials aren’t really interesting in involving the public in the county’s public business.
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