GREELEY — After years of residents asking for more transparency from the Board of Weld County Commissioners, it appears the commissioners are prepared to take the giant leap into the 21st Century.
A work session is planned for Monday at the Weld County offices, 1150 O St. in Greeley, to discuss video live streaming of its meetings.
According to 2017 data from the Colorado demographer’s office, Weld is the ninth largest county in the state with nearly 305,000 residents. Of the top 10 counties, Weld is one of three that does not offer live or archived video streaming. Douglas County (seventh largest) offers live audio streaming. Pueblo County (10th largest) does not video or audio but has approved live video streaming and is in the process of implementing.
Weld currently offers audio transcripts for all its meetings — regular, work sessions and land use hearings.
Many other smaller counties also offer live video streaming, as do many boards of education and municipalities across the state.
The call for greater transparency and live video by Weld residents has been so contentious at times that the newest member of the board, Commissioner Scott James, ran his campaign largely on a promise to bring live streaming to the county. James said if the small town of Johnstown, with under 16,000 residents, where he was mayor could afford it, the county could.
“I feel strongly about it,” James told Complete Colorado shortly after being elected. “The technology exists, and the citizens are demanding it. It shows how hard the county needs to work to do this. I’ll start asking right away why we aren’t doing this.”
James said Wednesday it took a little longer than he’d hoped. He had to get other commissioners on board with the idea. He still isn’t positive the plan will pass, but he’s cautiously optimistic commission members are finally on board.
“It just makes sense,” James said. “I had to take the temperature of the other members of the board as far as what they wanted for video streaming. But I think they are there.”
James said commissioners have scheduled a one-hour work session for 2 p.m. Monday with the vendor that currently handles the county’s audio service. The company will provide a demonstration on what the live streaming service would look like.
According to James, the cost to the county is not expected to be exorbitant. Although not finalized, after initial start-up costs it should cost about $5,000 a year to offer live streaming video with immediate archival access, he said.
It is not clear if it would include work sessions or land use hearings.
Past concerns raised by some commissioners include the fear that live streaming opens the door for comments to be taken out of context. James disagrees with that idea, adding the current process leaves more room for distrust from constituents.
The current audio transcripts must be requested though Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests and are not usually available for several days following the meeting as they are edited and embedded into a PDF.
“I think this is a warm and fuzzy plan,” James said. “It protects us more. We get to show the whole video and say, ‘here’s exactly what was said.’”
James said he also sees this as not just a transparency tool, but a cost savings one as well, as county employees will not be required to spend time filling CORA requests for audio.
“Yeah, we’ll have to pay for bandwidth,” James said. “But five grand a year to be transparent, to me it’s huge.”