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County weighs broadcasting: Board to decide whether meetings will be televised

WILLMAR -- Whether or not to televise the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners meetings on the local cable channel will be discussed Tuesday by the board members.

The decision will be made on the merits of broadcasting the meetings and not on the cost of the venture, said County Administrator Wayne Thompson.

It was initially thought the camera equipment in the board room would have to be replaced, at an estimated cost of $25,000. That price tag could have been enough of a reason for the commissioners to vote against airing the meetings.

But cost is no longer an issue.

Rudy Vigil, from WRAC 8, did some experimenting with the county equipment during the last couple weeks and said the existing recording equipment works well enough to create an acceptable audio and video recording of the meetings for the WRAC 8 broadcast.

Not all four of the cameras in the room work, but the main camera that's focused on the commissioners works well, as does the overhead camera that shows items placed on the podium. That camera would also show the top of the head and shoulders of an individual standing at the podium. A third camera that shows the audience is marginal. The fourth camera doesn't work at all.

In an interview with the Tribune, Vigil said he believes the quality of the video is good. A slight problem with low audio levels can be improved by making simple adjustments. "It's just a matter of figuring out how the audio is going into the VCR," said Vigil.

As it is, he said, the current system is ready to be used without spending any money. He said the commissioners should "give it a go and see what people think."

What people think about having the County Board meetings aired isn't exactly known.

At the board's Feb. 7 meeting when discussion about televising the meetings first took place, the commissioners decided to delay a decision until Tuesday to have time to hear from public.

But Thompson said as far as he knows, the commissioners have had very little public input, even after the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce sent a mass e-mail advising chamber members to call the Commissioners about the issue. "I don't think they've received many comments at all," said Thompson. "I haven't received anything."

County Board Chairman Dean Shuck of Sunburg said he received two telephone calls, but otherwise hasn't heard from county residents on whether it's a good idea or not.

Thompson said the decision on broadcasting the meetings "boils down to if it's a good idea."

Shuck said it doesn't matter to him which way the vote goes. If it is approved, he said the commissioners will "just have to remember than anything you say is going to be taped and broadcast."

WRAC 8 currently broadcasts the Willmar City Council and Willmar School Board meetings.

Mayor Les Heitke whole-heartedly embraces broadcasting the city's meetings. "It has added greatly to the whole process of open government," he said. "It helps our citizens to know what's going on."

Heitke said he'd like to see the city's committee meetings broadcast to provide even greater public exposure to the council's discussion and action.

Heitke said he doesn't believe the presence of cameras has scared away members of the public from speaking to the council and it hasn't negatively affected the way the council members act. "Generally, you forget that the cameras are there," he said.

A few area counties already broadcast their meetings. Meeker County has been doing it for three years. The simple setup there involves a person operating a camcorder on a tripod. The video is aired later on the local cable channel.

It was a "little awkward" and "intimidating" at first, said Meeker County Administrator Paul Virnig.

"You're on TV, you know what I mean?" he said. "We're not movie stars."

But Virnig said, overall, it's working OK.

"It's amazing how much people do watch it," said Virnig. "There's a lot of people in town that like it."

Vigil said WRAC 8 reaches nearly 10,000 homes in Willmar, New London, Spicer, Kandiyohi, Pennock and five surrounding townships.

If the Kandiyohi County Commissioners give the go-ahead, the meetings would be taped from 10 a.m. until noon. They would be broadcast at a later time.

The issue is on the agenda at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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