Hilton Head council should embrace live-streaming

info@islandpacket.comDecember 12, 2012 

Hilton Head Island Town Council members' reluctance to broadcast council meetings seems almost anachronistic.

The council voted 4-3 during its recent retreat not to broadcast or live-stream its meetings. If cost had been cited as the reason to say "no," we could understand their reluctance.

Instead, council members opposed to the idea expressed worries about "soapboxing" during the public comment portion of the meeting by council members and the public. That might prolong meetings, they said. Mayor Drew Laughlin said it could "change the way that issues are discussed."

The town has long limited to a few minutes the time someone can speak during its public comment period; council members generally don't respond directly to those comments. It's difficult to see how much more "soapboxing" than already occurs would result.

Several local governments, including Beaufort County Council and the Beaufort County school board, regularly broadcast their meetings with no noticeable ill effects in public or elected official behavior. Perhaps Town Council members think differently.

Councilman Lee Edwards said that only those who were truly interested in Town Council topics attended council meetings. The fact that few people show up is an issue of desire, not accessibility.

He's probably right that few people -- unless highly motivated -- want to sit through a council meeting. But Town Council regularly meets twice a month at 4 p.m., a schedule not all that conducive to working folks.

Meeting minutes are available online after they've been approved. But a check Tuesday found that the latest minutes available on the town's website dated to Nov. 7. And rare are the minutes that offer very much detail or insight on the discussions about even the most important topics.

The issue of desire versus accessibility doesn't answer the question of how many people might "attend" a council meeting if it didn't require a trip to the south end of Hilton Head and instead involved turning on your television or computer, with the ability to shift your attention to other matters if necessary.

The retreat discussion indicated televising meetings might get expensive or difficult, but town staff said live-streaming meetings on the Internet would cost very little.

We suspect it wouldn't take long for people in the council meeting room to forget that their actions were being beamed out to the greater world. And if the live-streaming cost isn't prohibitive, why not do it? The town should at least try it.

If County Council, the school board, Jasper County Council and Hardeeville can handle the additional scrutiny, so can Hilton Head's Town Council.

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