By Rick Langenberg:
The cameras will soon roll again in Green Mountain Falls in the form of live recordings of local meetings through the Internet, a practice that has already led to a walkout protest. But at the same time, the issue of “live streaming” broadcasts, in which viewers can observe meetings first-hand by accessing their computers or I-phones, continues to generate verbal sparks in this mountain community.
In a compromise move, the elected leaders last week agreed to compile a resolution outlining their policies regarding public audio/video recordings of meetings. And unless the city mans the cameras or controls the system, these broadcasts won’t be part of the official town record. The controversy over this live streaming situation prompted three elected leaders to hastily depart a previous meeting in mid-September in protest, forcing the cancellation of the session.
The dissenting board of trustee members stated that they objected to the commercialization and editing of these recordings. At issue is USTREAM, a service that uses advertising to generate revenue. Producers of the service put up the video stream through a camera and it is broadcast on the Internet. Users, though, have to pay not to see the advertising during the broadcast, a fact that outraged a few trustee members. But during a lengthy discussion last week, the practice of live video and audio Internet-related recordings received strong support from civic leaders. In fact, several residents accused the council dissenters of displaying unprofessional behavior and refusing to deal with modern-day technological realities. “You can’t tell someone they can’t do this,” said Mayor Lorrie Worthey, who noted that citizens can record local meetings open to the public. However, several council members continued to raise questions about the live streaming practice. One trustee even commented that if citizens really want to know what is going on in their community, then the solution is simple: attend meetings. “It is really best, if you come down here,” said Trustee Ralph LoCosio. Questions arose regarding using these recordings as the official public record. Most council members stated that they want more control over these live broadcasts. “We have to look out for ourselves,” said Trustee Jane Newberry, who offered to compile new rules governing this practice. She expressed concerns over violating the Sunshine Law, with edited recordings. “I have no trouble doing it, if the town controls it,” said Howard Price, one of the trustees who walked out in protest of what he referred to as turning town meetings into profit ventures for certain individuals. “I would consider something if there are no commercials. I want to do what is best for the town,” explained Price.
However, several residents asked about the difference between individuals recording a meeting through a live streaming system, or media representatives who often take regular photos and use tape recorders and publish or post advertisements. Michael Lohman, a board member of the Ute Pass Triangle Chamber of Commerce, stated that the recording of meetings is protected by the constitution. “You guys don’t have a choice,” said Lohman. He urged the council to research ways to use this technology to their betterment and to “control your destiny.” Several other residents said the live streaming would help increase awareness of the town hall activities. One local resident has already offered to make a $1,000 donation to help make the system a reality. The producers of the live streaming system used in GMF apologized for the controversy. According to Joyland Church Pastor Larry McKnight, the live streaming broadcasts were done more as an extension of recordings done at the church facility, which is shared by the GMF government as a temporary town hall. “It was just an offer,” said McKnight. “It was free.” Doug Estrada, who runs the equipment, referred to the recent recordings as a starting point. He said this particular USTREAM service, which does post advertisements, was used due to the minimal costs involved. According to Estrada, this live streaming technology is on the cutting edge. He cited the recent USA Pro Cycling race, featuring a major sprint through Woodland Park and Teller County, as a prime example of how this system was accessed by many viewers and race spectators. He said a number of possibilities existed for the town of Green Mountain Falls. “Find a service and create your own TV station,” said Estrada, when outlining the possibilities for GMF. The broadcast producer vowed to investigate different options for the town. He said other towns, such as Cripple Creek and Woodland Park, do have commercial-free Internet broadcasts, but they have to pay more money.
The trustees agreed to have Newberry craft a resolution. Many elected leaders favored a measure adopted by the city of Pagosa Springs, outlining the dos and don’ts of live video and audio broadcasts of meetings. It gives citizens and businesses the right to record these sessions, but stipulates certain rules and makes it clear that these recordings don’t constitute the official record of these meetings.