Government officials and citizens in Hobbs continue to wrestle with how to make city commission meetings more accessible to the public by broadcasting them online.
Citizens first began pushing for webcasting of Hobbs City Commission meetings a year ago. After months of investigating, the city said earlier this month that streaming video of meetings online live and archiving it for later use would cost too much — $80,000.
That prompted skepticism of the cost estimate and a backlash. On March 13, the Hobbs News-Sun published an editorial rejecting the city’s argument. The newspaper suggested webcasting could be done with a camera that costs a few hundred dollars, existing city staff, and a free YouTube channel.
“The City of Hobbs recently spent nearly $8,000 to send three employees to Italy to look at a swimming pool company that could, potentially, install the new pools at the planned Health, Wellness and Learning Center,” the editorial stated. “It seems the visit to Italy caught many outside City Hall by surprise. Perhaps having city meetings recorded and available for residents to view would help keep them informed about what the city is doing with their taxpayer dollars.”
So two city staffers — Director of Communication Meghan Mooney and Director of Information Technology Ron Roberts — came up with a proposal to purchase a camera for $600, record meetings, and post the video within 48 hours on YouTube. They made their pitch to the city commission at a meeting on Monday.
Some citizens who have led the push for webcasting agreed with the majority of commissioners that such a step wasn’t sufficient. The commission voted 5-2 against the proposal. Commissioners Jonathan Sena and Joe Calderon were in the minority.
“If we vote ‘no’ on this or if we move to table this, I think we’re sending a mixed message to Megan and to Ron. I think we need to get the ball rolling,” he said.
Mayor Sam Cobb said the city would keep working “to try to come up with a reasonable solution.”
Citizens are already webcasting video of meetings live and archiving it for later viewing. Hobbs resident Nick Maxwell operates a website, WeTheFourth.org, that posts city documents online and webcasts low-quality recordings of meetings, including Monday’s discussion about webcasting.
Maxwell and Hobbs resident Dennis Barcuch — who has written a commentary for NMPolitics.net articulating the need for webcasting — agreed with tabling the proposal and searching for a better solution.
Barcuch told commissioners at the meeting that citizens were already doing more than city staff was proposing — and it wasn’t costing taxpayers any money.
“But let’s discuss the cost of moving forward. I don’t believe it’s $80,000. I don’t believe it’s $600. I think it’s somewhere in between,”Barcuch said.
Some commissioners suggested putting citizens including Maxwell, Barcuch and webcasting advocate Byron Marshall on a committee to help the city figure out how to proceed.
Hobbs is behind the curve when it comes to webcasting. The state’s largest cities — Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe — all webcast and archive meetings of their governing boards, as do many smaller towns including Las Vegas, Silver City and Socorro.
Hobbs broadcasts commission meetings on a local radio station. That’s helpful for people who can listen live, but not those who are busy with jobs, families or other activities. You can buy a CD containing an audio recording of a meeting if you have the money and means to pick it up.
After Monday’s vote against the $600 camera, Barcuch told NMPolitics.net that the commission did “the smart thing by not spending hastily money that could be put toward the real solution.” Citizens, he said, “will aid the city with footage until they make a decision and implement a proper access to government’s activities and crowd-sourced engagement.”
“We look forward to working with our city leaders to open wide complete and comprehensive communication between government and we, the people of Hobbs,” Barcuch said.
“A handheld camera is not an acceptable long-term solution, nor is it conducive to facilitate webcasting,” he told NMPolitics.net.
Maxwell called for the city to implement a webcasting system this year and said his goal with webcasting and publishing documents on his website is to “demonstrate how public records and meetings can be more readily accessible to the people than ever before.”