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Seward County looks to stream meetings on Facebook Live PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 22 September 2017 11:20

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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



For years, the Seward County Commission has been broadcasting its meetings live on TV. Recently, the addition of streaming the meetings live on the county’s website also became an option.

Now, another choice may be available for those who want to watch the meetings through the social media site Facebook.

With a vote of 4-1, with commissioner Randy Malin voting against, the commission gave county staff the go-ahead to purchase equipment and development of usage guidelines to have meetings streamed live on the county’s Facebook page at Seward County, KS.

Before the vote, commissioners and staff entered into a brief discussion on the matter. Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey inquired as to what kind of usage the streaming service on the county’s website, sewardcountyks.org, was getting.

County Information Technology Director Mark Rohlf said typically, the day after commission meetings is when the device gets used the most. He added on average, people view the video for about two to three minutes.

“Most likely, they’re going to a specific event that they want to view, “ said Seward County Administrator April Warden.

Equipment to make the Facebook Live process a reality is estimated to cost about $1,500. Commissioner C.J. Wettstein asked Rohlf what other costs were involved.

“So you’re saying $1,500 could set us up to livestream and then we don’t have a monthly fee or anything?” Wettstein asked.

“$1,500 will get us a computer to get the video tied into so we could utilize this camera,” Rohlf said. “We probably wouldn’t spend the $1,500. $1,500 is what I usually budget for a PC. That’s what we do – no more than $1,500 for a computer.”

McCaffrey said having meetings streamed on Facebook Live would not require a separate person in the audience in the commission chambers, but Rohlf said one would be required in the control room next to the chambers.

“What we would be doing in here, we’d basically just be starting the video, and that would be pretty much the extent of it,” he said. “If I were to get a camera and set it up out here and control it, it’s a little more labor-intensive.”

Seward County Clerk Stacia Long then talked about some of the dangers of streaming meetings live on social media.

“I want to remind you that Facebook Live is interactive,” she said. “I feel like it should be manned if it’s going to be done so that we can police any negative comments that might be on there or if we have a topic of discussion in here that is heated. People can comment on it, which is fine, but it’s a lot easier to comment with a post on Facebook than it is to be in the audience.”

“It is, but at the same time, in order to actually access Facebook Live, you have to have a Facebook profile,” McCaffrey said. “It’s not anonymous.”

While he understood the live portion of the process, McCaffrey did have some concerns about having someone who is not a commissioner interacting with Facebook watchers.

“The way that I think we should handle that is, people can ask questions, they can post comments during the meeting, but much like the way we run these regular meetings, if there’s somebody in the audience, they don’t just get to stand up and start hollering things or asking questions,” he said. “We can handle any questions or comments later after the meeting by staff follow up or by the commission addressing those, perhaps the citizens comments at the next board meeting. There are ways to handle that.”

Long agreed having a non-commissioner interacting with the social media audience is a concern.

“I don’t think it’s a reason not to do it,” she said. “I just know that sometimes, there can be very heated conversations on there, and that’s just a concern for me because some people are unreasonable. I feel like they put inappropriate information and posts on there that we don’t want on our Facebook.”

McCaffrey said streaming meetings is a somewhat new thing, at least in Kansas, and issues would have to be dealt with as they arise.

“This isn’t a completely new   thing,” he said. “We may be pioneers in the state of Kansas for this. There are other county commissions that are doing this. There are city commissions that do this. They do it at the regular meetings. Some of them even use it for other meetings. It’s not a completely new and unique thing. If other governmental entities can kind of figure out how to make it work, I think we should at least give it a try.”

County counsel Dan Diepenbrock advised the commission to tread carefully when talking about government entities monitoring citizens’ comments.

“It’s been done,” he said. “There are circumstances under which we would be authorized to remove them, but we need to have a policy in place. We can’t just have a blanket policy where we’re going to delete comments that are negative.”

Warden said some social media sites, including Facebook, already have usage guidelines in place to deal with such problems.

“I’ve done some research on Facebook Live, and Facebook actually has very good policy themselves at eliminating foul language and different things,” she said. “You spell that out from the beginning, and people know what your intentions are. If they use that, they know their comments can be removed.”

Long said the policy in place on Facebook needs to be done. 

“I can create a fake profile and go on and nail you on Facebook, and you won’t know me,” she said.

Long said the live streaming on sewardcountyks.org also does not have a policy in place at this time.

Overall, Wettstein said despite the chance of negative comments, he believed putting the meetings on Facebook Live was a good thing to do.

“Surely people would be appropriate in their remarks,” he said. “I guess if they’re not appropriate in their remarks, sometimes, they’re not appropriate in their remarks in public. You learn to live with it.”

Wettstein said using means of broadcasting meetings such as the county’s website, television and Facebook Live help the county continue a more transparent image.

“We started televising our meetings a long, long time ago, and I’ve always felt like part of the reason we don’t catch a lot of flak is because we’ve always tried being pretty open on our meetings and letting people know what we’re talking about,” he said. “To me, this is just another step that will go out there and let people be able to check in and listen to our meetings. To me, it’s just another more sophisticated step that allows the public to check and see what we’re discussing.”

McCaffrey noted that if the meetings are streamed live on Facebook, viewers will have to like the county’s page in order to see the meetings.

The cost of the equipment would not exceed $1,500, according to the motion made by commissioner Ada Linenbroker and seconded by Wettstein, and the money would come from the county’s technology fund.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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