The Prairie Village City Council has reversed a previous decision and will begin broadcasting its meetings online this fall to reach residents who can’t come to City Hall.
Council members voted 8-2 Monday to approve the project, essentially reversing a May 15 vote that rejected live streaming meetings. At the time, the majority of council members said they hadn’t heard a demand from residents to post the council meetings and that there were few obstacles to residents coming to see meetings in-person.
Some former opponents said they continued to be concerned about public demand, but enough of them said they recognized the need to provide the public with greater access to meetings and were willing to give the project a one-year test run. It also helped that staff members reduced the price tag of the project from the original $8,000 to $5,500.
“For the amount of money and the amount of time that were committed to it, I’m supportive of the initiative,” said Councilman Andrew Wang, who voted against the measure last month.
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Under the project, the city will spend up to $3,500 for a camera and other equipment and up to $2,000 a year to post the video footage on the internet. Alley Williams, assistant to the city administrator, said staff won’t install the new live streaming system until after the city completes an upgrade of the council chamber’s audio and video system this summer.
Once in place, the live streaming system will broadcast the semi-monthly meetings of the city council and the council’s committee of the whole as well as the monthly meetings of the planning commission. A web address for the meetings hasn’t been determined yet.
The city will pay BoxCast, a live-streaming online platform, $1,560 a year to put the video footage online and archive it through at least the first year.
The council agreed to revisit the project after one year in service.
Council member Serena Schermoly has had volunteers live stream meetings of the city council and planning commission since last August, making the videos available through her Facebook page and YouTube channel. She said last month that the meeting videos have generated more than 7,000 views.
In Johnson County, only city governments in Mission, Olathe and De Soto provide live footage of their meetings online. Bonner Springs and Gardner post videos after the council meetings are over and Leawood provides copies of recorded meetings for a fee.
Proponents of live streaming have said it allows people who can’t attend city council or planning commission meetings a chance to keep up with their local government and get a broader idea of what happened than reading the official meeting minutes or reports from local media.
Resident Barbara Dooley told the council that the meetings are difficult to attend for many people, including parents of young children, the disabled, the elderly who can’t drive at night or college students living away from home.
“Just by deciding that we’re going to use an old format and continue with that restricts (access),” Dooley said. “People want video. They want to see it and monitor it.”
Councilmembers Brooke Morehead and Ted Odell voted against the project, although for different reasons. Odell said he worried live streaming would require too much staff time during meetings while Morehead said she believed adding cameras to the meetings would actually make people less likely to participate.
“I voted no on this the first time, and I will continue to support free speech without the intimidation of the camera and live streaming,” Morehead said. “I think it stifles open communication.”
Williams said staff isn’t sure how much time operating the system during meetings will take but that staff members who attend the meetings could handle monitoring the system.
In other business, the council appointed Assistant City Administrator Wes Jordan as interim city administrator effective July 5.
City Administrator Quinn Bennion is stepping down to take the city administrator position in his hometown of Vernal, Utah. Bennion has been city administrator for Prairie Village for more than nine years and served Merriam as city administrator and in other positions for 10 years before that.
Bennion told the council he was most proud of the city creating the Meadowbrook Park on Nall Avenue and planned to return when it opens next year.
“As I prepare for my next adventure, I view Prairie Village as being in a really good position,” he said.
Mayor Laura Wassmer said she has received applications from six people interested in filling the remaining term of former Ward 1 Council member Ashley Weaver, who stepped down last month after moving out of her ward, and will announce an appointee soon. The full board must approve the appointee before he or she joins the council.
The council also scheduled a public hearing on Aug. 7 for the proposed 2018 budget, which would spend up to $45.2 million on city services, the most in Prairie Village history. The mill levy would remain at 19.471 mills, which hasn’t changed in six year. The city’s solid waste fund assessment would also remain level at $192 per household.
The new budget includes a new full-time information technology officer for the Prairie Village Police Department, a $70,000 increase in the city’s contribution to the police pension plan and a number of salary changes tied to a new compensation and benefits study. The council members have also included $63,000 to potentially begin giving the mayor and themselves a salary for the first time, although they are leaving the final decision until after getting feedback from the public.
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