Public Meetings Available online
Posted October 4, 2016 at 5:50 am by Tim Dustrude
Story by Louise Dustrude
With the advent of affordable live-streaming technology and a desire for increased transparency in government, San Juan County and Friday Harbor, like many other jurisdictions in the United States, have implemented video access in recent years.
In a county like ours where many residents live on a different island from the county seat, the ability to view legislative meetings in real time (or watch the recording later) has allowed the public to become more engaged with local government.
Even many people living right on San Juan have embraced the convenience of watching the local government discussions from their homes.
Now several groups take advantage of the set-ups in the county legislative meeting room — the County Council, the County Planning Commission, the County Board of Health, the Public Hospital District, and occasionally other groups such as Washington State Ferries — and the same system set up in town hall.
County and Town videos are also archived to watch later and subjects of interest can be watched separately. The agenda is posted alongside on the video page with links to specific items where just that segment can be viewed. A great time saver!
The State’s Open Public Meetings Act encouraged local governments to take this step, and the technology and affordability made it possible. Many large counties in the state now offer live streaming of meetings, according to Ingrid Gabriel, Clerk to the County Council.
The County Council discussed this possibility during 2009 but were discouraged by the expense. Howie Rosenfeld, who was a member of the Council at that time, explains: “I had been urged by a Skagit Commissioner to come see their new hearing room. On one trip I had time and stopped by. During the tour she showed me the streaming service they were using. I immediately saw streaming as something we needed and started lobbying my colleagues. Cost was a big stumbling block until then-Council Clerk Ann Larson found Chad Swanson [a resident of Shaw Island] who was in the early stages of developing the streaming service AV Capture. He offered to use SJ County for test development at low cost and that’s how we were able to get started.”
According to Gabriel, “The amount of traffic on the streaming site varies according to the public interest in the topic. During the Critical Area Ordinance deliberations the ‘hits’ easily ran into the thousands in one month. San Juan County videos are watched both in the county and worldwide, by residents at home, residents when they travel, and by people just interested in what’s happening with legislation in SJC. It’s safe to say that since its inception in 2009 viewership has steadily increased.”
Gabriel says the system “has brought more citizens into engagement with the government.” Residents can get agendas and also documents for upcoming Council meetings from Gabriel by writing her at email@example.com.
For agendas of Board of Health meetings write Council Staff Assistant Susan Kollet at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Planning Commission meetings, write Lynda Guernsey at email@example.com. To get notices of meetings and agendas for the Public Hospital District meetings write to Pam Hutchins at firstname.lastname@example.org. To get Town agendas and notices of meetings write the Town Clerk, Amy Taylor, email@example.com.
To watch the various County committee meetings, go to sanjuanco.com, click on Community and then Council Hearing Room Videos and select the one you want by date. For the Town of Friday Harbor Council meetings go to fridayharbor.org and then to Council.
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