County looking into future
By Jessie Burchette
County commissioners are trying to make it easier for the public to hear and see what goes on at their meetings.
Commissioners are looking at venues including Webcast, podcast and TV.
And they would like to improve conditions for the people who come to the meetings and at times struggle to see or hear what’s going on.
Newly-elected Commissioner Tina Hall is pushing for the board to record its meetings, put them on the Time Warner government access channel and provide a video stream on the county’s Web site.
Hall also suggested that the county look at ways to involve younger people — the 18- to 25-year-old group — in government by making the meetings available for podcast on iPods and similar devices.
Commissioners appeared supportive, but had questions about costs and how many people will watch.
David Boling, the county’s information systems director, said the city of Salisbury reports increasing demand for its telecast of city council meetings.
Responding to questions, Boling said he has no figures on the numbers of viewers of the city council meeting.
Boling estimated it would cost $40,000 to get the basic equipment to handle the project. He said it might be possible to do it cheaper, but the product would not be good.
Boling and County Manager Bill Cowan said there will be additional costs for employee time if the board opts to go forward. Cowan said the cost could be considerable, pointing out that the county doesn’t have a Webmaster.
“Get figures on what it will cost to do it right,” said Arnold Chamberlain, chairman, adding that he didn’t want to start out the way Salisbury did. “What Salisbury did, it was unacceptable.”
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell weighed in, suggesting the current situation is unacceptable for commissioners and spectators.
Mitchell cited the continuing problems with the audio system that doesn’t carry throughout the meeting room.
Mitchell also cited the problem with electronic presentations. A screen placed near the front of the room allows commissioners to see, but the public can’t.
He also pointed to election night when large numbers of people show up to watch the return come in and struggle to see the figures.
“This room needs an upfit,” said Mitchell. “We need to be more accessible.”
Commissioners agreed for staff to determine what is needed and cost figures for both the room upfit and telecasting the meetings.
County officials have previously cited difficulties in upgrading the room, a former federal courtroom.
The room, named for former longtime Commissioner Newton Cohen, has repeatedly drawn praise from visiting officials.
With a vaulted ceiling, a wall of windows and oak panels on solid walls and a nearly antique lighting system, the construction makes it difficult to run wires and cables or easily improve the acoustics or lighting.