During the municipal election campaign of 2016 many of the candidates, including myself, spoke about having a livestream of the Hoover City Council meetings.
Technology has advanced tremendously in this area over the past few years. What used to be available only to news organizations is now available to most consumers. “We’re going live to our reporter” can be replaced by John Q. Citizen going live on Facebook. During the Hoover Fire Department Santa Claus ride on Christmas Eve 2016, BluffParkAL.org , in conjunction with BluffPark Drone, livestreamed the entire Bluff Park run of Santa’s ride with Station 5, both from the ground and from the air. We are no longer dependent on news organizations to bring us live news instantly.
Bringing the governmental meetings to our computers is not new, however, at least not in Hoover.
Four years ago, when the Hoover City Schools Bus Debacle (for lack of a better phrase) was in the headlines of our news sites, a Bluff Park resident by the name of Dan Fulton started to attend both Hoover City Schools Board meetings, as well as Hoover City Council meetings. Mr. Fulton, a retired Jefferson County Schools teacher, was not shy about speaking his mind at these meetings, and felt that all residents should attend the meetings. If they couldn’t come to the meetings, Mr. Fulton was going to bring the meetings to them.
Mr. Fulton was able to accomplish this by bringing a small hand-held voice recorder to each meetings. Mr. Fulton always sat in the front of the room so as to not miss anything that was being said. After the meetings, Mr. Fulton would go home and upload the audio recording to YouTube and then post it for all to hear. Everyone of Mr. Fulton’s recordings, dating back to 2013, are available for the public to hear.
In 2015 and 2016, Hoover City Schools began to hold meetings throughout the city regarding the proposed re-zoning of the schools. Hoover City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathy Murphy felt that it was important for stakeholders who couldn’t attend each meeting to be able to at least see what was going on at the meetings. HCS began to stream the meetings live to all of those residents who wanted to watch. Because of the ability to archive these videos, the meetings could be viewed at any time.
In 2016, after the evident success of the livestream of the re-zoning meetings, as well as Mr. Fulton’s continued recordings of Board and Council meetings, Hoover City Schools began to livestream their Board meetings. At first they used a simple web cam on a tripod, and that has now evolved to a permanent camera that brings each meeting to all stakeholders via the internet.
During the municipal campaign those of us who were involved in the technology field, including Mike Shaw, Curt Posey, and myself, promised that if elected, we’d see to it that Council meetings would be streamed live for the public to see. Mr. Shaw went on to win Place 4 and Mr. Posey won Place 1.
On January 12, 2017 the Hoover City Council held their work session at 5pm. After the work session ended, the Technology Committee, headed by Councilor Mike Shaw, had their meeting. In attendance were Hoover Councilors Gene Smith, Place 2 (Council President), John Greene, Place 7 (President Pro-Tem), John Lyda (Place 3), Curt Posey (Place 1), as well as Committee Chairman Mike Shaw, Place 4. Hoover City employees present included Dr. Melinda Lopez, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Information Officer, Mike Ogles, Chief Technology Officer, Allan Rice, City Administrator, and Tim Westhoven. The public was invited, and both Mr. Fulton, and myself, as well as former candidates Sam Swiney and Arnold Singer, were in attendance.
The meeting was to cover four items:
- Internet access in the Council Chambers
- Options for streaming, recording, and archival of Council meetings
- Possible short term upgrades to some of the presentation capabilities in Council Chambers.
- Layout and information for the council page(s) on the city’s website
Item 1 – Internet access in the Council Chambers: It was announced that the Chambers already had internet access for the public and for private use. Both were password protected and it was determined that the password would be posted on the agenda prior to each Council meeting. It was also determined that the password would most likely be changed on a regular basis.
Item 2 – Options for streaming, recording, and archival of Council meetings: This item was the longest in discussion, as various issues were discussed, including the placement of the camera(s), the service to be used (YouTube or perhaps others), change in protocol (should all speakers come up to podium when speaking so they can be heard), limit of speaking time, grandstanding by speakers, and other issues. Mr. Shaw always does extensive research, and used Tuscaloosa and Huntsville as examples of what he had in mind. It was determined that an answer would be given to the committee by March 31 by the Hoover IT department.
Item 3 – Possible short term upgrades some of the presentation capabilities in Council Chambers: The discussion centered around the current layout, and how presentations
were given. Hoover City Schools has gone to a permanent LCD monitor behind the Board members for the public to see presentations, and a smaller monitor permanently mounted for the Board members to see the presentation, as well as a permanently mounted camera and clock. The committee would study some of these layouts to come up with one for the Council to use.
Item 4 – Layout and information for the council page(s) on the city’s web site. Mr. Shaw had an example of what he’d like to have included, which was given to the IT department. Mr. Rice mentioned that the City’s web site was due for a makeover, and these changes would be included.
Overall it was a productive meeting, with many great ideas exchanged. Mr. Fulton was able to give some of his input as well. Since then, he’s also posted some other city’s streaming of their Council meetings, including the City of Mobile.
It was my impression that by June or July all residents with internet access will be able to see Hoover City Council meetings live.
Welcome to the 21st Century!