As Marysville City Council begins to look at life after COVID, one of the questions that is returning is whether or not to livestream meetings.
The topic, which has been an issue for nearly a year and a half, quieted when council meetings went virtual because of the pandemic. Recently, council members began looking at when meetings might return and with those discussions came the livestreaming debate.
Citizen Jermain Ferguson was at Monday night’s council meeting to urge members to consider livestreaming the meetings. He said livestreaming the meetings would “provide greater accessibility, education and transparency to local government.”
As part of the debate council members and members of city administration have expressed concerns about the timing of the associated cost, the challenge of determining a return of investment through viewership rates and the potential for council members to use the livestream to grandstand.
Additionally, council members have debated whether it is the citizen’s responsibility to put effort into educating themselves and whether livestreaming allows citizens to not be invested in their government.
“While all the concerns are valid, there is a more impactful side to the ongoing debate,” Ferguson said, “Will livestreaming increase accessibility? Will it help inform the public on how their local government functions? Will it increase transparency in the decision-making process of public officials?”
He said many families are busy and cannot sacrifice work or family time to attend meetings.
“Does that mean that they do not care about the city or want to be informed? I say not at all,” Ferguson said. “Sometimes families are just busy.”
He said many other communities livestream their meetings.
“The City of Marysville is the center of Smart Mobility with connected traffic signals and vehicles,” Ferguson said. “Marysville can join other municipalities in providing livestreaming to allow more residents to connect, engage and be informed by its local government.”
As part of the budget process, council allocated $44,896 for a company to install livestreaming equipment as well as control the camera’s and production through the meetings then archive the meetings.
At a recent finance committee meeting, council member Henk Berbee questioned the value of the expense. He said residents can log onto virtual meetings the same way they would log onto council livestreams but there is “a small number of people” who log on to participate or even watch.
City Manager Terry Emery said the value is not in how many actually watch the meetings but in providing the opportunity for everyone.
“I don’t think we can sit back and necessarily say that because we only have five or six people, we don’t do this,” Emery said. “What this does is it covers all our bases in regard to being transparent and allowing people to participate in our council meetings.”
At the finance committee meeting, council member Alan Seymour said he thinks if the city has a high quality production, “we are going to see more people attending meetings.”
Emery said whatever the city does, needs to be done right. He said there is a council member who livestreams meetings through his social media account. He said those broadcasts are difficult to see and to hear.
Council member Donald Boerger said there is another “concern” with a personal livestream. He said that footage, “could be manipulated for political gain in the future.”
Even so, Boerger said there is a bigger concern. He said America is “not a full blown democracy. We are a republic.”
“Everyone talks about the Constitution. No one reads the Constitution,” Boerger told the finance committee. “For your voters to be engaged, they have to be fully engaged in the political process and that means sometimes attending meetings, speaking when you might not want to.”
Council will be looking at the issue of livestreaming at next week’s work session.
Emery said it will likely be “May, June, July-ish” before meeting can be in person, but it is important to plan ahead.
“By talking about it now, we know which direction council wants to go,” Emery said.
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