County Commissioners explore call-in phone lines for public hearings
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Commissioners didn’t seem ready, during a Sept. 14 meeting, to embrace live broadcasts of their public hearings the way the city of Steamboat Springs has. However, at the urging of Commissioner Cari Hermacinski, they directed administrative staffer Helena Taylor to pursue freeing up some of the incoming phone lines at the courthouse for constituents who want to call in and listen to deliberations during regularly scheduled daytime meetings each Monday and Tuesday.
Routt County currently posts an audio recording of commissioner proceedings on the portion of its website where it also publishes its agendas. The recordings are posted within the week they were made next to the meeting agenda.
Hermacinski said, in her view, because of the larger geographical area the county encompasses, the freedom technology affords residents to access meetings is even more needed in Routt County than in the city.
“The city of Steamboat Springs is eight square miles, and Routt County is 2,400 square miles,” Hermacinski wrote in an email. “The sheer size of Routt County makes it difficult for citizens to just pop down to our meetings. I recently visited the Focus Ranch in far north Routt County, and the drive is nearly two hours.”
But it’s more than the size of Routt County that makes it difficult for its residents to attend public hearings at the courthouse, Hermacinski pointed out. The commissioners conduct the majority of their hearings during business hours, when their constituents are often working at their own jobs.
Commissioner Doug Monger doubted that many people would call in to listen to the meetings, observing the experience would sometimes be “boring as hell.”
“I’m all for transparency,” he said. “For some hearings, it would be very good, some of the LaFarge hearings (gravel pit permit hearings that took place 2001-2005), that would be very good.”
Commissioner Tim Corrigan questioned why the county wouldn’t begin by live-streaming its public hearings on the Internet, and Hermacinski agreed that, if demand warrants, the county could probably accommodate more people with live streaming.
City Finance Director Kim Weber said Wednesday the city pays a contractor about $18,000 annually to videotape, coordinate and program coverage of City Council, Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission meetings. That doesn’t include the cost of cameras, computers and microphones. Access to Comcast channel six is included in the city’s franchise agreement with the cable provider, Weber added.
Videos of the meetings are attached to city agendas after the fact, allowing viewers to click on an item and fast forward to the corresponding video segment. The city also provides a call-in phone line for its constituents, at a cost of about $500 annually.
Taylor told commissioners this week that the courthouse is served by two digital phone lines that can each handle 23 incoming calls.
She suggested that, as a test program, she would consult with the county’s provider, Tuck Communications, on allowing incoming calls on one of the two digital lines and reserve the second for regular county business.
Steamboat Today readers can eview County Commissioner agenda items in Monday editions of the newspaper.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1
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