Snohomish County will put meetings on the Web

Prepare to lift the veil that has hidden the faces and voices of Snohomish County Councilmen, but don’t expect any YouTube moments.

Come February, a new system will broadcast video and audio of County Council meetings online, along with a long list of policy documents available for people to download and read.

It’s a step toward more transparency and access to government, County Council chairman Dave Gossett said.

“Not only can you watch and hear (meetings) in real time, if you’re interested in an issue you can call it up after the fact,” Gossett said. “It will make it much easier for people to know what’s going on.”

Putting meeting videos online is an important step for the state’s third-most populous county. Many cities and counties are putting meetings online, and even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is planning to go online on YouTube today with her holiday address.

Two things have prevented the Snohomish County Council from broadcasting its meetings: a resistance to spending money on a high-priced system and an unwillingness to open a Pandora’s box to grandstanding elected officials and everyday folks who want to get their 15 minutes of fame.

“If you look at some of the jurisdictions in Snohomish County when they first went to televising their meetings, they had a lot of people playing to the cameras,” Gossett said. “There were arguments over how much time an individual spent on camera. Those are the kind of concerns I had and the system we’ve got addresses them.”

Video cameras are mounted and fixed to show the entire council at once, and won’t give any close-ups to officials or to the public, council clerk Kathryn Bratcher said.

“We’re not looking for any YouTube material here,” she said.

Systems have gotten cheaper. For online broadcasts and document access, the county tapped a campus redevelopment technology fund that dates back to when the new administration building opened. The county is spending $54,000 for hardware and $2,100-a-month fee for computer server space. The fee is frozen for five years.

Once things are running, Snohomish County will be one of more than 200 cities and counties using the online system by San Francisco-based Granicus. Locally, others include Mountlake Terrace, Skagit County, Woodinville, Bellevue, Kirkland and Olympia.

For years a coveted listening line allowed county employees and media to listen to council meetings over the phone, but the system is limited to a certain number of callers.

The county planned for years to somehow broadcast council meetings. Two video cameras were installed in the eighth-floor council chambers when the new administration building opened in 2005, but were never connected.

Those now-obsolete cameras will be used for video arraignments in Superior Court, Bratcher said. Two new cameras will be installed and cost about $600 apiece.

Streaming video online will be a change for the council, County Councilman John Koster said.

“In the Legislature it changed things a bit,” he said. “People stand up and pontificate longer for the cameras, and prior to running for office again.”

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

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