Pandemic shows the value of live streaming council meetings

Necessity is often credited as being the mother of all invention.

And while greater Napanee council didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the necessity of having to meet, while physically distanced and still allowing the public to observe, led to the first YouTube broadcast meeting in the town’s history.

Streaming meetings online has been an idea kicked around by town councillors dating back to the previous term, possibly even the term before that. That’s not to say broadcasting the meetings on YouTube via Zoom is the same as live streaming, but it’s the closest they’ve come yet.

It’s far from perfect as more than once a councillor has lost connection to the meeting or a town staff member trying to give a presentation has suddenly ‘disappeared’ mid-sentence. But given the circumstances, it’s a huge asset to even be able to hold meetings and make important decisions in the middle of a state of emergency that has been ongoing for 10 weeks now.

If ever there was a push to highlight how valuable streaming meetings can be, this is it.

Attendance at council meetings, back when going places was a thing people did, was usually rather sparse. There were a handful of regulars who simply exercised their right to attend meetings and see council’s decision making process for themselves, regardless of the agenda. But for the most part, unless there was a hot button issue that affected a lot of people, the chamber gallery was pretty empty. Even the instances that were of broad interest, pretty well after that issue was voted on, the large crowd would shuffle down the stairs and be on their way.

Viewership on the YouTube channel however tells a different story. During the actual live broadcast of the May 19 meeting, there were about 12 people watching, most of them were town staff who were on the meeting. In the five days following the meeting being posted however, it’s up to 227 views. Maybe that’s a sign that residents have already binged Tiger King and there was nothing left to view on Netflix. Then again, a lot of the decisions being made during the COVID-19 emergency are far reaching, so it makes sense there would be plenty of interest.

Having the meetings available online, whether live or available to be viewed after the fact, makes the meetings just that much more accessible to everyone, which is always a good thing. Getting to town hall for a 7 p.m. meeting on a Tuesday isn’t easy for everyone. It also adds another level of transparency to the council. It may even encourage more people to get involved with municipal politics as they’ll have a better understanding of what goes on at a meeting.

To properly live stream a meeting from town hall chambers isn’t as simple as putting an iPhone on a tripod and pressing ‘record’. Prior to COVID-19 safety protocols, council had budgeted the money for the equipment that would be required to broadcast the meetings and appeared to be taking real steps to making it happen.

As the pandemic has shown, it’s certainly a worthwhile investment.

Adam Prudhomme

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