City Council meetings are now online

The Port Orchard City Council has ended its agreement with Bremerton Kitsap Access Television (BKAT) for the broadcast of its meetings.

This week’s meeting will be the last to be covered by BKAT. Beginning Jan. 12, the public will be able to view the meetings at their convenience on the city of Port Orchard’s Web site.

“We’re ready to go with this,” said City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick. “We’ve run tests and everything is working well.”

Aside from the city council, BKAT also broadcast Port Orchard Planning Commission meetings. Online coverage will include the Planning Commission, and will be expanded to include the council’s study sessions.

The Dec. 15 study session was taped with Deputy City Clerk Brandy Rinearson at the controls. Rinearson said she was comfortable using the equipment, although some experimentation on the volume level of the study sessions would be necessary before a successful broadcast could occur.

Rinearson received training from BKAT personnel about the fine points of running the camera system during the Dec. 22 council meeting.

Currently, Rinearson is responsible for taking minutes for all meetings, which she types into a laptop.

Under the new arrangement, she will run the camera and type the minutes at the same time.

“I can do both,” she said. “If I miss something when I’m typing the minutes, I can go back to the tape.”

The Port Orchard City Council meets on the second and fourth Tuesday, with study sessions scheduled on the third Tuesday.

Under the current BKAT contract, the meetings are televised at 1 a.m. on the Wednesday following the meeting, 8 p.m.Thursday and 11 a.m. Friday. After the change, the meetings will be uploaded to the city server the day after they occur, and will be available for viewing at any time on a computer with an Internet connection.

Online viewing is also more flexible, since the public can speed ahead to topics of interest or scroll back to replay a section they had missed. Supporters of the process point to this flexibility as its greatest advantage.

The online system will also allow the filming and posting of special meetings, something not possible with BKAT since the schedule is worked out in advance and includes programming from other municipalities.

In a report to the council, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola said more people would see the meetings online than through BKAT, since the cable access channel is only available on one cable system. Coppola would not disclose the numbers, which he said were proprietary, but offered to share them privately with any council member.

Those opposing the cancellation of the BKAT contract feel the action isolates senior citizens who live within the cable boundaries but do not have an Internet connection.

Like many other governmental actions, the move toward the Web is based on money. According to Coppola, the city wanted to negotiate the BKAT contract in order to cut costs and lower the approximately $8,000 paid in 2009.

BKAT did not want to lower its rates, which prompted the city to cancel the contract and reallocate the funds.

The city council discussed using the money saved to pay for flowers and Web site improvements, but this changed when council members determined that money spent on technology should stay in that category.

There is no available estimate as to how much it will cost the city to broadcast meetings online, but it is expected to represent a savings.

Some money has already been spent, like the $700 used to buy the software needed to record and post the meetings.

Information Services Director Vince Tucker has run tests on the software, reporting no problems with its use.

“There are always some glitches,” Kirkpatrick said, “but we’re sure we’ll be able to work them out.”

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