County Board pursues live-streaming options

WOODSTOCK – Live-streaming meetings could advance the McHenry County Board’s goal of transparency, but maybe to the detriment of its goal of frugality.

After years of talking about streaming meetings online, a County Board committee is putting out requests for proposals to install the cameras and the necessary software. The plan includes software to allow viewers to access agenda items, which supporters say would have the bonus of automating the present labor-intensive process by which county departments get items before the County Board and its dozen standing committees.

Besides making county government more open, Management Services Committee Chairwoman Ersel Schuster said that it would result in cost savings by automating an agenda development process she calls a “convoluted mess.”

“I see this as a way of reducing government. It would make a big difference in how we do our work,” said Schuster, R-Woodstock.

However, the potential cost has other board members on edge, despite the fact that it has decreased in the years since streaming first was proposed.

An estimate presented to the County Board last week puts the cost at $6,050 to install three ceiling-mounted cameras and $575 a month for webcasting services. Agenda management services could cost $2,575 a month.

Member Peter Merkel, R-McHenry, said at the Aug. 2 board meeting that he would like to get an idea of how many people would watch meetings before talking about the expense.

“If we’re going to spend $3,000 [a month] in fees, are we going to have half a dozen people rush home on Tuesday night to watch this?” Merkel said at the meeting.

Merkel joked that for the cost versus benefit, “We can rent a chartered bus, bring the people here, take them all out to dinner afterward, and save money.”

Being skittish about spending the money goes deeper than the bad economy and hard times for taxpayers. Board member Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, long has championed streaming meetings, but Hill told fellow members that now is not the time, especially after they decided not to give raises this fiscal year to non-union staff.

Finance and Audit Committee Chairman Scott Breeden, R-Lakewood, said he was undecided on the issue. However, he agrees with Schuster that a streamlined process by which the county’s 27 departments get items onto agendas would result in much greater efficiency and less staff time.

“I have to look at the big picture, and along with the package comes the ability to manage our agendas, and that gets to be a real headache and a lot of work [for staff], putting them together for all the committees.”

County government’s online transparency efforts were recognized this year when a national organization gave its website an “A” rating for available information. The Sunny Award, from Sunshine Review, means that the county met all 10 of the agency’s criteria for posting budgets, meeting minutes, contracts and other data.

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