Those interested in following, or catching up on, Upper Arlington City Council meetings soon will have a new option through an audio-video streaming link on the city's website.
After initial proposals to provide livestream City Council meetings were met with mixed views last fall, officials began test runs of the concept in April by broadcasting the meetings in real time via Facebook Live.
Now, Upper Arlington will take it a step further by implementing a new livestream and archive service for all council meetings and work sessions that can be accessed through a link at uaoh.net.
A three-year, $90,336 contract with Swagit Productions LLC of Dallas will enable those interested to both hear and see meetings by mid-August.
"I think this is a good idea and it will be interesting to see what kind of participation we get with people tuning in," said Todd Jaquith, a city resident who frequently attends public meetings and who often records portions of council meetings with a handheld camera.
For several years, the city has provided audio recordings of council's regular meetings via an archive on the city's website. Those recordings aren't available until after the meetings conclude, however, and the city hasn't provided audio of its council work sessions.
Last fall, then-Council Vice President Kip Greenhill proposed the city begin broadcasting live videos of council meetings. The idea was supported by John Adams, who left office at the end of last year, as well as council members Brendan King, Sue Ralph and Carolyn Casper.
However, then-council President Debbie Johnson said she had "mixed feelings" about the proposal because it would be an added cost and she predicted viewership would be "very low."
David DeCapua, who, like Johnson, left council at the end of 2017 due to term limits, took it a step further by calling the proposal the "dumbest idea ever" and adding the move was "completely unnecessary and it serves no purpose."
The current council members disagreed.
On June 11, the contract with Swagit was approved by a 6-1 vote.
More than half of the cost for the three-year deal -- $59,736 -- will come in the first year, when computer software and hardware, including three cameras, are installed in both the room where regular council meetings are held and in another room at the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center where council work sessions are held.
Under the contract, audio-video streaming services can be provided for up to 50 meetings per year.
The lone opponent of the contract, Councilman Jim Lynch, made clear he supports the idea of providing audio-video streams and archives of council meetings. However, he preferred a less-expensive option that would have provided a single, fixed camera versus the multiple-angle, three-camera system provided by Swagit.
Lynch's proposal would have cost about $9,000 over three years.
"I really want to support this because it's been a key priority of council to improve transparency," Lynch said. "I'm glad we took the step several months ago to begin broadcasting our meetings on Facebook Live.
"I'm just still concerned about the price tag. I just believe every time the city needs a new car, it doesn't need to go look for a Lexus."
Among those who supported the Swagit contract were members who liked that the new service will provide indexing of agenda items so discussions of specific topics can be more easily found on archived recordings. Currently, there is no indexing feature on the audio recordings that the city archives. Facebook Live streams are not archived.
"I think, No. 1, the difference of adding this means it's accessible for all," Ralph said. "Not everyone has Facebook or chooses Facebook.
"I think there will be a much greater ease of use with the indexing."
King said, "Letting everyone have access is the key reason why I'm voting for this."
Councilwoman Michele Hoyle noted it will allow viewers to see who is making comments during meetings.