Nanaimo council to webcast finance meetings

Less formal and more frank discussions by city councillors and staff will soon be available to Nanaimo residents through webcasts.

While regular open council meetings are already televised and then uploaded to the city's website generally every second Monday, finance and policy meetings, held on alternate Mondays, were not.

Finance/Policy Committee of the Whole meetings were historically held in the tight quarters of the city hall boardroom. After recent pressure from city watchdogs and a special interest group interested in wheelchair accessibility, meetings were moved to the Shaw Auditorium.

Coun. George Anderson said that created an opportunity to broadcast finance meetings to the public because the recording infrastructure was already there.

Council approved Anderson's motion Monday night.

"I thought it was important that since we had the ability to have our meetings recorded that we do that," said Anderson. "People need to know what council is doing and what members of council are saying in regards to certain issues. There are rather big policy decisions being made, such as conflict of interest policy and the discussion surrounding a communications manager. People should know how council is spending its money."

Bylaws and bylaw amendments are not voted on in finance meetings, but members of the public are invited to attend and make presentations as they are at open council meetings.

Anderson added that beginning the meetings at 4:30 p.m. makes it difficult for many citizens to attend, and archived webcasts could provide an opportunity for people to watch the issues being discussed at their own leisure.

The city's IT department estimates about 20 people tune in to the live webcast of open council meetings, followed by anywhere from 100 to 150 hits on the video upload on the city's website in the week after the meeting. It is not known how many people watch the live televised open council meeting on Shaw TV.

It will cost taxpayers $2,500 up front, plus an additional $250 per meeting to use Shaw Television resources and staff to record and upload finance meetings, as well as several hours of city IT staff time. The city must also pay more than $800 per meeting to rent the Shaw Auditorium.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said he isn't convinced there is a public demand to record and upload finance meetings.

"If I knew Nanaimo citizens were so anxious to hear those discussions as well, then maybe the money would be well spent," said Ruttan. "But by my count there were six people in the audience at the last FPCOW meeting, and it was all the usual people. I'm just not sure it's money well spent."

Recording FPCOW meetings could be short-lived. Council already voted to move the meetings to the new city annex when it is completed later this year or early 2013. That facility will have wheelchair accessibility, but is not wired to record meetings.

Ruttan estimates that if council wishes to record and upload finance meetings at the annex, it would cost about $250,000 in upgrades.

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