When the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners could not get additional airtime earlier this year on DCTV, the county’s television network, one commissioner took matters into her own hands.
And BOCTV, an online site with streaming and on-demand video of commissioners’ committee meetings, was born.
Commissioner Elaine Boyer said BOCTV resulted from “one of those harebrained ideas I got.”
“I thought it would be a great idea to tape our committee meetings,” she said. “I want the public to see us working and asking the hard questions.
“I think it would be very useful for the community to see these decisions,” Boyer said. “They don’t really hear that we’re asking these questions and that we’re really trying to press for [answers].”
Boyer said the recordings provide additional transparency for residents who are unable to go to a committee meeting during the workday.
“People get very frustrated with us because they can’t come during the day,” Boyer said. “And we can’t really have meetings at night like this because of the staff.”
Now, residents can view online various Board of Commissioners’ committee meetings where “the real work is done,” said Commissioner Lee May.
Residents can hear “the real questions and the answers, whether they are good or bad answers,” Lee said.
Viola Davis, of the group, Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter, said, “There is nothing more transparent than televising these committee meetings.”
“If I had to choose between going to the Board of Commissioners meeting and the committee meetings, I would go to the committee meeting, because that is where the decision is made,” Davis told commissioners during a committee meeting.
The idea for BOCTV came after DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’ administration denied repeated requests to cover the board’s February budget process.
The administration stated that producing a 13-hour, two-day finance committee meeting would take 56 hours to prepare the footage for airing and DCTV’s entire four-person fulltime staff would be tied up for two days.
“This would adversely affect the station’s ongoing operations and duties,” stated Diamond Lewis, director of the CEO’s Office of Cable Operations, in a January memo.
Commissioners complained at the time that Ellis’ State of the County address was airing 60 times a week on DCTV.
“We’ve been given all these parameters and limitations by DCTV,” Boyer said.
BOCTV is located at www.dekalbboc.com, where the agendas for the various committee meetings are available with the embedded videos. Each agenda item has a time reference to make the site more user-friendly, said Bob Lundsten, Boyer’s chief of staff.
At $375—paid out of Boyer’s budget—for equipment and $10 for a domain name, the cost for BOCTV is minimal, Lundsten said.
“We did this on the cheap,” said Lundsten, who records the videos and maintains the blog site. “It’s not a website. There’s no webmaster. It’s a blog site.”
Since the site is free, there are some commercials on it.
“You can pay $500 a month to get rid of all the commercials,” Lundsten said. “We’re not doing that. The 15-second Toyota commercial is worth it.”
Lundsten said BOCTV is not intended to replace DCTV or to give individual commissioners airtime.
“This isn’t about face time and mugging for the TV,” Lundsten said. “This is a committee meeting. There are no close-ups. There’s no commentary. Simply, it’s out there.”
“It’s about accuracy of information,” said Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton. “People can see [for] themselves what was reported, what was done, the information that is actually brought and the level of cooperation that we get from the administration.”
Some commissioners have big plans for BOCTV. The board’s county operations and police services committee approved Boyer’s plan to move $75,000 from DCTV to the budget of the Board of Commissioners.
May said commissioners have two options for expanding BOCTV.
One idea is to hire a staff person to record and broadcast all of the board’s committee meetings and provide more social networking “to put out more of the work that we’re doing,” May said.
The other idea is to hire a college or university with a mass communications program.
May said commissioners could also use the funding to hire “someone who can…help us with media and getting our message out.”
Commissioner Kathie Gannon, during a committee meeting on April 10, said she supports the idea of televising the committee meetings, but has a problem with the proposed $75,000 price tag.
“I just don’t know that we need to take taxpayer dollars—$75,000—to hire someone when DCTV can film them and put them on-demand so that people can watch them and look at them anytime.”
Gannon said the county needs to focus on developing a policy for DCTV.
“There are a myriad of events and topics that should be…available on DCTV,” Gannon said.
Animal control issues, voter registration procedures and volunteering opportunities are some of the topics that could be covered on DCTV, Gannon said. “Nobody is talking about that. We’re just talking about how to increase our time on DCTV.”
“We really need to talk about DCTV—what they’re doing, what they’re not doing, what they could be doing,” Gannon said.