A survey asking Cody people if the city should spend 50 grand or more to continue broadcasting public meetings has failed to provide a strong majority opinion one way or the other.
The audio-visual equipment, fast becoming obsolete, is used to broadcast regular council meetings and planning and zoning board meetings live on two local cable channels – TCT 849 and Spectrum 190. Council work sessions are not televised.
The split opinion leaves the city council in a wait-and see-mode as its members continue to weigh pros and cons.
“It’s a difficult question because the council wants to be fiduciarily responsible,” said Barry Cook, city administrator. “But on the other hand the council wants to be transparent.”
After the live showings, tech staff archive meeting videos on the city’s website.
City clerk Cindy Baker has said although associated with the AV equipment, the archive feature is primarily a software product.
Various components of the AV equipment are 5-20 years old, making it difficult to keep the aging equipment functional.
Baker said the city can no longer repair some components, nor can it find all replacement parts compatible with existing equipment.
Aside from TV, the city uses an assortment of other methods to communicate with citizens, from its website cityofcody-wy.gov, Facebook and emailed agendas to newspaper ads, radio programs and direct mailings.
Cook said when the city starts to eliminate an option, local government becomes less transparent.
Seeking direction from the public, council members recently asked Cody people to take a short online survey. Over a month’s time, 82 people responded to questions asking whether they watched city meetings on TV and if they thought the city should spend $50,000 or more to replace and upgrade AV equipment needed to continue the service.
The majority of survey takers were ages 55-74. Roughly 75 percent, or 61 respondents, indicated they do not watch meetings on TV while 21 people, or about one-quarter, said they do. Of the people who do not watch live broadcasts, 40 percent said they were not aware meetings are televised.
It’s difficult to know how many people are watching city meetings.
“Cable providers say there’s no way to tell us,” Cook said.
Opinions about the $50K expenditure were about evenly divided, with 39 survey takers agreeing and 34 disagreeing. The remaining chose the neutral “neither agree nor disagree” option.
Televised meetings certainly have value, Cook said.
“Whether it’s worth $50,000? That question hasn’t been answered.”
The city will continue the live broadcasts until the equipment breaks down.
Should that failure happen before the fiscal budget year ends on June 30, councilors will need to make a decision. If the majority favors buying new, money will have to come from the city’s savings account or incorporated into the next budget year.
In the meantime, city tech staff Scott Kitchen and Lisa Thomas are looking into the viability of low-cost video sharing through other means such as social media platforms. The Cody School Board, for example, livestreams meetings through Facebook.
To keep up with an overall growing dependence on technology along with threats to cyber security, the council has agreed to add a third position to its information technology division. The city is advertising for a full-time network communications technician.
Council members will continue to monitor the situation and welcome citizen input, Cook said.