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Is city ready for prime time?
The Port Orchard City Council is considering the possibility of televising council meetings in the near future.
BKAT, Kitsap Countys public access channel, has offered to tape and broadcast the councils twice-monthly meetings, with the option of expanding coverage at some future time. Although city officials designed the council chambers media system with the intention of one day taping and broadcasting meetings, this is the first time the subject has been formally broached to the council.
We really want the City of Port Orchard to be on our channel and bring the government to the people, said BKAT Public Access Manager Charleen Burnette. Thats what were all about getting information to the people.
BKATs services are costly, though. Right now, the city pays a South Kitsap High School student $25 a night to run the chambers audio-visual equipment, which broadcasts exhibits and images of speakers though the chambers closed-circuit television system.
For BKAT technicians to tape the meeting using the citys equipment, add the necessary intro and closing credits, and broadcast the tape twice on BKATs cable channel would cost an estimated $7,500 a year. That estimate is based on BKATs hourly fee of approximately $57 and the assumption the average council meeting lasts about two and a half hours.
BKAT currently reaches 50,000 homes in Kitsap County.
Although $7,500 a year is not beyond the citys means, Councilman John Clauson, who chairs the telecommunications committee, said it could come down to a question of priorities.
Monies are becoming tight for cities, he said. Would the council want to fund television broadcasting over $7,500 of sidewalk replacement? Thats something I cant answer weve got to sit down and look at total needs.
Equipment may also be an issue.
Although Burnette was confident BKAT could do a broadcast using the citys existing equipment, Clauson pointed out the four cameras now in use are not really set up in the most efficient way.
The camera over the podium, he said, is not quite sharp enough to relay a clear image of all documents, particularly those with small print. The camera in the rear of the room, which offers a panoramic view of the council, is in a fixed-position it can neither zoom in on an individual speakers face nor can it pan to pick up individuals outside the frame.
City staff said those limitations could make a televised council meeting hard for home viewers to follow they wouldnt know who was speaking and would have a hard time understanding complex presentations.
Thered have to be improvements done before (televising) could be done, said City Engineer Larry Curles. We always figured, if youre going to have TV, you should be able to zoom in on the speaker.
One option is to buy a sharper-lensed camera for the podium and move the current podium camera to the back of the room. That, however, is a solution unlikely to be tackled in the near future Clauson said estimates for a new podium camera have been around $10,000.
There is also speculation camera-shyness may be a factor in the councils final decision. BKAT currently broadcasts Bremertons and Poulsbos city council meetings, as well as the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners meetings. Burnette said people have, in the past, expressed anxiety over being on camera.
Conversely, she said some speakers went out of their way to be long-winded so as to gain more time on-screen.
Thats what a lot of cities have balked at they dont want to be on TV, Burnette said.
Bainbridge Islands city council meetings are also televised, but the contract is handled by the islands own public-access channel.
Poulsbo was the latest to hit the airwaves it signed up in 2001. Karol Jones, the Poulsbo City Clerk, said they have thus far had success with televising their meetings and have re-signed for 2002.
The council seems to be very happy with the decision, Jones said. We dont have a big crowd at our council meetings, so the council is hoping people watch it on TV.
The Port Orchard City Council telecommunications committee is currently discussing the idea, but hasnt yet decided whether to support or reject it. Following the committees recommendation, the council could either make a decision or opt to wait and see what happens in the upcoming budget cycle. However, should the council opt to retain BKATs services, taping could start as soon as the next council meeting.
Its as simple as the BKAT folks showing up, Clauson said.