Hilton Head to consider Beaufort County offer to broadcast meetings

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMay 8, 2013 

In a tiny control room off the large meeting room at Bluffton Library, Adam Farver, with Beaufort County Broadcast Services, prepares to broadcast a meeting of the county's Southern Corridor Review Board in this file photo. Hilton Head's Town Council will soon begin broadcasting town council meetings.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

If residents aren't able to attend the Hilton Head Island Town Council meetings, they miss the only chance to watch the action.

That might not be the case much longer.

At Tuesday's Town Council meeting, Mayor Drew Laughlin requested that town staff propose an agreement with Beaufort County to broadcast town meetings. Council could vote on the matter May 21 or June 4, according to assistant town manager Greg DeLoach.

The town would pay the county about $37,500 the first year, which includes $11,500 to $14,000 worth of equipment and broadcasting 30 town meetings, according to DeLoach. The price would go to $22,500 per year thereafter, a cost of $750 per meeting, according to a memo from town staff.

The county has the same agreement with the Beaufort County Board of Education to broadcast its meetings, DeLoach said. The county has been airing the twice-monthly school board meetings since 2007.

Meetings could be taped and aired by the county as soon as the Aug. 2 council meeting, he said.

The meetings could be viewed several ways:

  • A live broadcast of the meeting on County Channel 63, Time Warner Channel 9 or Hargray Channels 9 or 113.
  • Four weekly reruns of the meetings on those channels.
  • A live stream of the meeting on the town's website, www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov.
  • Video recordings of all meetings on the town's website by the next business day.

"We think, on the staff level, that it is a good product, and we recommend that (the town) tests it out for a year," DeLoach said.

As part of the agreement with the town, the county would also produce -- at no additional cost -- five video projects not to exceed seven minutes each on topics selected and written by the town. DeLoach said the town could use the videos to promote parks and events.

Contracting with the county would be cheaper than doing the work in-house, DeLoach said.

The town would have to spend about $200,000 upfront for equipment, additional staff and software, according to a staff memo. It would then cost about $70,000 each year thereafter. It also could take six to nine months to purchase and install the equipment and train staff.

Publicly airing the town meetings has the support of some council members, such as John McCann, who said the broadcasts would provide more transparency, convenience and citizen participation.

Others, including Lee Edwards and Bill Harkins, have expressed concerns about installing cameras in council chambers.

It could change the dynamics of council meetings -- prolonging discussions and leading to grandstanding by council members and citizens, according to Harkins.

"But what could trump that is a demonstrated interest on the part of the public," he said, adding that he'd be willing to try it for a year, then gauge public interest.

Edwards said he has seen grandstanding at televised county meetings but has not heard such interest from people in his ward.

"I don't recall anybody saying that they really wanted it," he said.

If people were truly interested in what goes on in the municipal government, they would show up at the town meetings, according to Edwards, who said he is "not adamantly opposed" to broadcasting the meetings. "It just doesn't make sense to spend money to put it on TV if people don't care, anyway."

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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