In my Annual Plan submissions to the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils, I’ve proposed that these Councils fund live web streaming and online archiving of their full Council and major committee meetings.

I can hear some Councillors now, even some BayBuzz readers … what are you, nuts?!

But once again, I’ll repeat one of my favourite political maxims … sunlight is the best disinfectant.

We have a nearby precedent. Meetings of the Taupo District Council (TDC) are web streamed and archived, significantly increasing public awareness of council deliberations. You can view the TDC operation at http://taupo.yourcouncil.co.nz

BayBuzz has researched both the Taupo costs and viewership rates.

Viewership – In the case of Lake Taupo, live streaming has ranged from a dozen or so viewers per meeting up to 275. Viewing of archived sessions has added considerably to the live audience, with ‘on-demand’ segments often watched by several hundred unique viewers (972 in the highest instance).

As against that, often I and one or two others are the only public witnesses to what happens at Council meetings. It’s not a pretty sight! Often Councillors are stunningly uninformed, mired in minutia instead of addressing the big picture, and/or surprisingly petty and parochial. The cardinal rule of most Council meetings … the smaller the issue, the bigger the debate. Unfortunately, Councillors have gotten accustomed to operating in this anonymous, unaccountable environment. And the level of deliberation shows.

If you think I’m being harsh, attend yourself. Or, hopefully in the future, watch them online.

Cost – Taupo operates a modest one-camera video recording set-up. The consultants involved estimate the original installation costs at approximately $5,000 or less. Ongoing costs are driven by the amount of digital material stored and viewed. For example, if 200 users were each to watch 1 hour of live streaming, plus 1 hour of archive material each, the cost would be $160.

Peanuts! It’s amazing how inexpensive transparency and democracy could be.

For Hastings, less than the cost of hanging potted plants in the CBD.

For the Regional Council, less than the annual cost of the lunch-time feed put on for Councillors at each Council and committee session.

For Napier City Council, much more vexing than the issue of cost would be the novel burden of conducting meetings that actually did something — like educate ratepayers about important public matters under consideration and how carefully their Councillors might have sussed them.

One can at least hope that bringing more public attention to bear on Councillors’ deliberations might raise the level of discourse. Admit it … wouldn’t you try to clean up your act if you knew several dozen or hundred ratepayers might be watching?

Councillors would be less likely to say things they know to be downright untrue or misleading, which I’ve seen plenty of times. They might be inclined to do more homework. They might not be as likely to get their shorts in a knot over procedure as opposed to substance. They might not be led by the nose by staff as often. They might not spend hours on re-arranging parking spaces. They might think twice about dissing (or mis-representing) their neighboring Councils and Councillors.

Come to think of it, perhaps the most important beneficiaries of webcast meetings might be Councillors and staffs across the region … monitoring each other!

Maybe all this improvement is too much to expect. But I say, let’s give it a try. It’s surely not a budget-buster. And there’s nowhere to go but up!

Tom Belford

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8 Comments

  1. Live and archived web streaming of Council and Council committee meetings as Taupo does is a superb idea.

    If nothing else knowledge of a web readily accessible video record of Councillor accountability has to be healthy and would have good quality of governance effects.

    The web streaming proposal is very comparable to Parliamentary sessions being available on TV and the net.

    Local body governance increased transparency has to be good.

    I would expect the Councillors if they are truly well-intentioned to be promoting this public window.

    Why wouldn’t the community and ratepayers insist on this?

    Where does the Chamber of Commerce stand on the suggestion?

  2. I think its a fantastic idea. I would certainly be a regular watcher. Please bring it on Council.

  3. Submissions to HBRC close tomorrow.

    If you support Tom's idea, email council with a submission stating that, and come along to speak to it in June.

    For more infomation, agendas, minutes etc, check out our website http://www.hbrc.govt.nz

  4. I think this is a very good idea. I have been to too many council meetings where Councillors have spent time being destructive about other people and their ideas. This is not a healthy state of affairs and is made worse by the fact that in most cases the same crowd keeps getting re-elected.

    We need fresh new ideas to get the Bay moving forward rather than stagnating as it is now (we can't entirely blame the recession for this as other regions have experienced the SAME recession and are doing BETTER than we are). Greater public engagement in public decision making (via webcasting) is an excellent first step.

  5. I support the webcasting idea too. The costs are reasonable. Councillors would soon get used to debating in public – and some of them would probably thrive on it.

  6. Great idea – can't see any negatives for ratepayers from this initiative. GO FOR IT!

  7. Golly! You wouldn't be able to cat-nap through a boring presentation, or make snide little asides while some earnest ratepayer droned on at public forum…

    Oh, wait. They don't have public forums, do they?

    There's a more basic idea.

    (Not that I don't support this one, but there's not much point in merely seeing the process if you can't interact with it.)

  8. The only reason for NOT webcasting the council meetings is the councillors not wanting to be watched while/if they work.

    As the highest polling councillor so trenchantly informed us "the public is "ignorant and thick".

    Obviously keeping us that way works for some …. don't hold your breath for web-casting ….

    Next thing we'll be wanting accountability and we can't have that!!!!!

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