GREENFIELD — Almost six months since city government meetings were taken off Comcast Channel 19, city officials say more people are turning to the city’s website to catch up on local politics.
Channel 19 went dark Sept. 1, 2013, after a partnership between the city of Greenfield and Greenfield-Central School Corp. unraveled.
While Greenfield-Central High School students had been recording local meetings and putting them on the TV channel, city employees are now left managing their own equipment and putting videos on greenfieldin.org for the public to see.
Nick Riedman, Greenfield information technology director, said he still hopes to eventually get city meetings back on TV for public transparency, but at least for now, placing them online is the best the city can do.
“There’s been a lot of effort on our part to contact Comcast to say, ‘What files do you need to get shows back on Channel 19?’” Riedman said. “They’ve been very slow to get back to us. It doesn’t seem to be a priority to them.”
Still, Riedman said traffic to the city’s website has grown over the past six months in general, and that includes hits on videos posted there.
The city had been placing public meeting videos online for the past four years, Riedman said. Now that the city website is the only place to watch a government meeting, there’s an uptick in viewership.
There were 197 people who watched a Greenfield Board of Works meeting on the city website in January; that’s up from 152 in January 2013, when the videos were also aired on TV.
Viewership of city council meetings is about the same last year to this year, at roughly 234, but data indicates people are watching for a longer period of time now. Just how much longer is hard to tell.
Meetings online include the Greenfield City Council, Greenfield Board of Works, Greenfield Parks Board, Greenfield Board of Zoning Appeals, Greenfield Plan Commission, Greenfield Historic Board of Review and the Hancock County Tourism Commission. That’s more than what was recorded before: Riedman said students recorded the meetings of only two or three local boards.
Dave Goodrich, city webmaster, said they’ve occasionally posted special meetings, like the downtown revitalization public hearings last year.
“Pretty much anybody that asks for their public meeting to be recorded, we’ll record it and put it on,” Goodrich said.
What makes recording meetings fairly simple without G-CHS students, Riedman said, is an automated system at city hall that was installed four years ago.
Cameras and microphones are linked so when a person speaks into a microphone, the camera focuses on the speaker. A switch at the back of the city council chamber makes recording easy; Riedman met with several department heads and elected officials to make sure someone at every meeting knew how to start and stop the system.
“Three push buttons – that’s all you’ve got to do,” Riedman said.
Still, the system isn’t flawless. It takes a few seconds for the camera to switch to the speaker – something that had a smoother transition whenever a student was controlling the cameras. Also, sometimes a meeting isn’t recorded. Someone forgot to record the most recent city council meeting, for example, so there’s no video online for that meeting, only written minutes.
But Riedman said for the most part, the city is striving to be transparent and keep access open to the public, even if they can’t flip to a public meeting on TV during a commercial break.
Money was the key issue over the breakup between the city and the school corporation last year. For years, the city had been sending franchise fees – money every cable subscriber pays to underwrite public broadcasting – to the school. In return, the G-C students and staff would record and air city meetings on TV and also broadcast several other community programs.
But in 2012, the city council decided to keep the roughly $100,000 annual franchise fees and pay for the city’s own technology needs. While G-C students continued to record meetings at city hall for almost another year, in August 2013, the school severed all ties with the city.
November brought new life to the G-C broadcasting program. G-C entered into a new partnership with NineStar Connect, called NineStar TV. The local company pays the school an annual fee, and students record community-based programs and sports shows (similar to what they recorded before, minus the meetings at city hall).
Riedman said there was discussion last fall about trying to partner with NineStar Connect as well to get city meetings on TV, but the downside is not a lot of city residents subscribe to NineStar.
Overall, Riedman is pleased that meetings are getting put online within 24 hours, which offers government access to anyone who has Internet access.
“We try to make these meetings as easy as possible utilizing our website, and it is the easiest way for all of our audience,” he said.