Record first step

In an attempt to improve local government transparency, an effort is underway to investigate the feasibility to record Wapakoneta City Council meetings and to air them on local television outlets and computer websites.

Council’s Communications and Rules Committee members agreed improving transparency of government actions and decisions prompted the hour-long meeting to investigate possible options to video record meetings.

“I am a believer that people need to be able to trust their government and the first step to that is transparency,” 4th Ward Councilor Chad Doll said Wednesday after chairing the committee meeting. “If people feel the government is hiding something then there is no trust and it is hard to move the community forward so I think this is a valuable tool — it is one way to alleviate those fears and to add to the transparency.”

The city already posts meeting minutes on its websites and the media, specifically the Wapakoneta Daily News, is present at most meetings to inform the public, Doll said, “but anything we can add to improve that transparency, adds to that level of trust.”

Committee members made no recommendation Wednesday regarding the recording of council meetings.

“Tonight we didn’t get much further then this is something we may want to do and I think we have a lot of research to do to determine how we want to do it and how much we want to invest in a program like this,” Doll said. “I really think this is something we want to do and we will go from there.”

Committee members only decided to further investigate the possibility of televising council meeting through a taped-delay system. Airing council meetings on television was first discussed by councilors approximately five years ago.

Game Face Ohio representative Todd Utrup discussed options with the setting up of cameras and recording devices with committee members and city administrators.

Utrup said city officials need to determine how many cameras they want in council chambers and then how much they intend to spend on a switcher, which changes the view between cameras and sends the signal to a recording device, cameras and a recording device.

He suggested a three-camera system would be most desirable, with one providing a wide view of council, a second providing a view of the gallery and a third being a pan-tilt-zoom camera to focus on a councilor or guest speaking.

Utrup said the city could go with a simple one-camera system to save money.

“If you take shortcuts in dollars, the system will be more complex to use,” Utrup said. “You have to decide are you doing this for government transparency or are you doing it for the people to watch. If you are doing it for people to watch, then you will want a better system.”

Councilor-at-large Randy Fisher said he would not support a one-camera system, expressing his favor for at least a two-camera system that shows councilors and the gallery.

“If we are not going to do it right then we shouldn’t do it at all,” Fisher said. “If we start with a low quality system then nobody will watch it and then there will be no reason to advance to a higher quality system.”

Councilor-at-large Dan Graf said he would like Council Clerk Terry McDonald to contact the state municipal clerks association or the city’s information technology (IT) employee Steve Schuler to learn of other municipalities that record their meetings and how they record and air the meetings.

Graf said they could talk with administrators from these communities to learn the advantages and disadvantages of the systems.

Mayor Rodney Metz and Safety-Service Director Bill Rains estimated a system would cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Doll said the cost of the system would influence the committee’s recommendation, but their decision would likely not garner unanimous approval from residents.

“I think anytime you talk about spending any type of money — whether we go low end, middle of the road, or high end — there will be disagreement in how it was done,” Doll said. “I think with most projects people would see the value in having a record of what goes on at city council meetings and with other city business.”