Live webstreaming of city council meetings will launch as early as this fall.
Video of public meetings will also be archived and indexed on the city’s website so interested parties can find the specific issue that interests them. Rollout of the service is targeted for September after council unanimously approved it Monday.
“This is really where the world is going,” said Coun. Cam MacKay.
“The citizens certainly demand to see what we’re doing. It speaks to our council priorities of being open and accountable. I think this will get a lot of interest,” he said.
Council agreed to free up $15,000 from its contingency fund to launch the service, which is projected to cost $15,000 a year. The city will now issue a request for proposals for a service provider, said communications director Maya Pungur-Buick.
MacKay first tried to get webstreaming approved during budget time last December but the project failed because of concern over the then-estimated $30,000 cost.
The lower sticker price was enough to convince Coun. Cathy Heron.
“This is the future and it will open the doors for different citizens to access what we are talking about, what we are deciding, so it’s a great opportunity,” she said.
Shaw Communications currently captures video of council meetings then broadcasts it later the same day, from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. These broadcasts don’t show the entire meeting because of the defined time slot.
The webstreaming service will happen in real time (with a 10-second delay) and will include the entire meeting, Pungur-Buick said.
Shaw broadcasts will continue. Her communication with the company suggests it doesn’t feel there’s a conflict between the two services, she said.
If the city wants to webstream events that Shaw isn’t covering, it will have to provide a videographer, Pungur-Buick said.
Coun. Malcolm Parker said he was surprised to learn during the budget process that many residents don’t have access to Shaw cable.
“This is certainly going to fill that void,” he said.
Several Alberta municipalities — Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Edmonton and Calgary — already offer webstreaming of council meetings.
“It’s about time St. Albert joined the 21st century,” said local activist Elke Blodgett, who’s been known to complain that the Shaw broadcasts cut off important decisions at budget time. Afternoon meetings are also difficult for residents to attend, she said.
“It’s really time. I’m really glad council changed their minds,” she said.
Webstreaming will be available for meetings held in council chambers but not those that occur in the east boardroom, a city hall venue where council conducts its less formal committee meetings. Coun. Wes Brodhead asked administration to calculate the cost of equipping that room with the audio and video equipment needed to provide the webstreaming service.
Council postponed another of its strategies to better communicate with residents — a monthly paid column in local newspapers.
The idea is one that Heron first brought forward in February and again on Monday. It ran aground amid questions of who would write the columns.
Heron felt the duties could fall on the deputy mayor, a position that rotates among councillors throughout the year. This would have had each councillor writing two columns a year to express council’s views.
The lack of detail troubled Coun. Malcolm Parker.
“I’m not against the motion totally, but I think maybe we may need a little more meat around it,” he said. He moved a postponement so Heron can add detail to the idea.
MacKay didn’t want to wait.
“Things seem to take forever and a day for a simple task,” he said. “I’m getting a little tired of the slow pace of things so I’m not going to be supporting this motion.”
The motion passed so Heron will return with more detail to a future council meeting.