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Grande Prairie a model for council webcasts

St. Albert can learn a thing or two about web streaming from Grande Prairie.

St. Albert can learn a thing or two about web streaming from Grande Prairie.

That’s what Mayor Nolan Crouse thought going into a two-day mayors’ meeting last week in the northern city, which has been web streaming its council meetings since 2004. Crouse came away with some tips for St. Albert as it tries to implement the service for this fall.

“In order for people to watch it they’re going to want quality sound and quality video,” Crouse said.

“The other thing is making sure that the cameras move from person to person so it’s not a static camera just sitting looking at the mayor or from a hundred feet away just looking at council,” he added.

Medicine Hat and Strathcona County have adopted web streaming more recently but Grande Prairie has the highest quality and has “honed it,” Crouse said.

St. Albert city council originally voted against web streaming during its fall budget deliberations, largely due to the $30,000 projected cost. But in May council endorsed a plan to spend $15,000 to implement the new technology. At the time, the city’s communications department hoped to get the service operational by fall.

One of council’s priorities is to improve communication between the city and residents. Other efforts to adopt online communication tools, specifically social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, have been delayed due to a staffing shortage in the communications department.

In Grande Prairie, the city’s web streaming of council meetings is part of its communication strategy, which also includes Facebook and Twitter, said marketing and communications manager David Olinger.

Grande Prairie contracts a Vancouver service provider and uses existing employees to perform tasks like operating the cameras, Olinger said.

It costs Grande Prairie about $7,000 a year to host the live webcasts. The service has been accessed 27,000 times since 2004, with nearly half of that — 12,700 — coming in the election year of 2010, he said.

Residents have come to rely on web streaming, especially since cable television coverage has been spotty in recent years, said Mayor Bill Given.

“It’s a standard part of our business and I think it’s something that our residents really expect,” he said.

Having council meetings covered live and archived online benefits residents who are out of town and is also useful to city staff because they can check back on previous meetings to clarify council requests, Given said.

Knowing cameras are always rolling also puts pressure on councillors to be on their game.

“It does tend to raise the level of discussion at the council table because the council members know that they can be held accountable and their actual words could be reviewed by the community at any time,” Given said.

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