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Washington County Commissioners to broadcast meetings online

June 12, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN, HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Almost a year after their meetings were first broadcast through streaming audio on the county's Web site, the Washington County Commissioners are preparing to add video of their meetings to the Internet.

As the County Commissioners take two weeks off at the end of this month, workers will be installing cameras and other equipment in the commissioners' meeting room.

Two video cameras will be installed, one above the audience seats aimed at the commissioners, and another above the commissioners facing the presenter's table, said Joshua O'Neal, the county network engineer who is handling the project.

O'Neal said it will take several weeks to install the equipment and train employees before the meetings can be broadcast online.

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"We're shooting for the middle to the end of July," O'Neal said.

Some commissioners have pushed hard for their meetings to be shown on public-access cable television, as meetings for the City of Hagerstown and the Washington County Board of Education are.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said streaming video online will be "a good start" toward that goal, which he hopes will be accomplished by the end of the year.

The Board of Education has broadcast its meetings on public-access TV for more than 10 years, spokesman Will Kauffman said.

Hagerstown began airing city council meetings on TV in April 2003.

Aleshire said streaming video online will be an improvement on the county's audio broadcasts, in which it can be hard to tell who is speaking.

Commissioners Vice President Terry L. Baker agreed, calling the plan "another way of taking the meetings to the people."

The county will spend $36,472 for the video equipment and will install the equipment itself, county spokesman Norman Bassett said.

Bassett said streaming video online is, like audio streaming, an inexpensive way to broadcast meetings.

"The commissioners wanted something that would get information out to the public without spending a lot of money," Bassett said.

No new staff will be hired; Bassett will operate the equipment.

The audio streams, which are smaller files that are easier to download, will still be available after video feeds are added.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said video streaming is a good addition to streaming audio that will help "give more information on the thought processes that went into a decision."

He said adding video could, however, give elected officials a chance to campaign from the commissioners' desk.

"If it's used for those purposes, that would be a downside, but overall I think it's a great idea," Kercheval said.

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