Want to track your tax dollars through Facebook Live? Akron City Council debates livestreaming meetings

From The Akron Beacon Journal Residents who want to see or hear how their taxes are going to be spent should follow Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples on Facebook.

Right now, she’s the only one in Akron consistently broadcasting what the council does every Monday. And, after demonstrating that it costs nothing and requires little more than pointing a smartphone at the action, her proposal to hand over the job to a marketing company already hired by the council might not fly.

Mosley-Samples introduced legislation Monday that would add livestreaming of public meetings to a $57,000-per-year contract with WhiteSpace Creative.

Bob Zajac, who runs the public relations company in Akron, is up to the task. He and an employee already attend the meetings. All they would need to do is set up a free Facebook account (City Council already has a Twitter handle) and click the “live” button when the app is open on any smart device with a camera.

Zajac would charge nothing more. The contract already requires him to “attend and record video of weekly City Council meetings and post the video.” What’s holding up some on the council, however, is Zajac’s request for a wall-mounted camera that he could swivel remotely to capture the action. Plus, “the city would have to hard-wire this chamber. I would not want to risk going live with Wi-Fi,” he told the council.

His concern: If the connection fails, so goes the footage.

“I’ve never had a problem with the Wi-Fi,” said Mosley-Samples, who livestreams from her chair.

Having already shopped around, Zajac said it would cost $10,000 to $15,000 to install wiring and the camera, and two television monitors that could display to the public what council members are seeing on their city-issued iPads.

Beyond the equipment, “our costs would not be any different,” said Zajac.

Actually, the costs may be nothing. Mosley-Samples proved this when she asked two members of her church to livestream last Monday’s activity using a smartphone and a tablet, demonstrating that it can be done for free and without interruption.

“I don’t understand how this can’t cost anything,” said Councilman Donnie Kammer, who agreed that “transparency is good government.” Still, he cited policeman without Tasers, crumbling cruisers and broken city elevators. “I’m not comfortable spending any more money on the third floor [of City Hall] or any other floor until we take care of other parts of the city.”

Worth it?

The council signs off on nearly $1 billion in public spending each year, a little at a time each Monday — except holidays — on the third floor of City Hall (166 S. High St.).

Residents show up at 7 p.m. when legislation is bundled and approved, often with little or no discussion. Often, attendees take turns complaining on a microphone for three minutes or less about what the council has or hasn’t done.

Rarely anyone shows up at 1:30 p.m. when most people are at work. But these afternoon sessions hold the deliberative discussions behind the sweeping up-or-down votes taken later that night.

This Monday, as the sixth and final committee met to discuss Mosley-Samples’ live­streaming proposal, only four people sat in the audience: Zajac, his WhiteSpace employee and two reporters.

A reporter heard Councilman Bob Hoch say, “I can’t imagine that we’re going to have a lot of people watching a Monday afternoon meeting.”

Mosley-Samples explained that her video post last week garnered 219 views while the meeting was still happening and 953 more afterward. More might watch it if uploaded each week to YouTube and shared in a link on Twitter, Mosley-Samples said after explaining to some colleagues about how social media platforms work in tandem to communicate and cross-brand content.

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