A subcommittee of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners met Monday night to discuss the broadcasting of meetings.

The four-member General Government & Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to reconvene a special committee to investigate recording meetings for public access. The makeup of that committee is still to be determined. The broadcast committee was previously comprised of three commissioners, which voted 2-1 to stop recording meetings in 2019. With the exception of county officials, last night’s meeting was very sparsely attended when compared to last Monday night’s full board meeting when a “people’s filibuster” played out. Dozens of residents attended and used their allotted speaking time during call to the public to request the board boost transparency and start broadcasting meetings again.

Committee Chairman Bob Bezotte told WHMI the goal would be to improve the entire system especially audio. He says commissioners have been in favor of broadcasting meetings but the sticking point has been the need for a better system within budget constraints. Bezotte says the board as a general rule has not been against broadcasting meetings and some of the criticisms from people but especially name calling, were not appreciated. He noted the audio and speaker system wasn’t very good, especially during call to the public, and you often couldn’t hear people’s comments. Bezotte also cited a need to upgrade the board room projector screen for reports and presentations from departments because when it comes down, half the audience can’t see it. He says June 14th is a target date and the goal is to move forward as quickly as possible. Bezotte further addressed what he thinks was a misunderstanding with the previous 2-1 committee vote to end recordings. He clarified that former Commission Dave Domas did vote to end the recordings but that was because he wanted a better system that than what the county had - especially with the poor audio quality.

Commission Chairman Don Parker and some others attended Monday night’s meeting to observe. He spoke during call to the public and stated he thought reconvening the broadcast committee was a proper and thoughtful way of proceeding. Parker commented he understands that there great disparity when it comes to opinions on how to proceed, including amongst board colleagues, and the focus should be what’s in the best interests of constituents, what is practical and what is best for the county.

Commissioner Doug Helzerman was on the original broadcast committee that voted 2-1 to stop the practice of recording meetings in 2019. During call to the public during last night’s subcommittee meeting, Helzerman said he has been researching Michigan counties and very few broadcast meetings. He noted out of those who do it, very few do it well and noted poor audio quality. Helzerman stated that some videos in Grand Rapids were only viewed a handful of times. That is not the case for Livingston County though as Commissioner Gary Childs pointed out during the meeting. He obtained numbers from SoundQue Multimedia, the company that was previously contracted to broadcast meetings. Childs says over the course of a 12 month time frame, there was an average of 1,700 views per meeting. Should the broadcasting of meetings resume, Clerk Elizabeth Hundley requested that the committee come up with a retention schedule including how long to keep videos posted on the county website and who should maintain it.

However, there was no effort to re-institute the broadcasting of meetings until last week's protest, which was organized by Jordan Genso of Brighton. Genso told WHMI that he while was "pleased that the county commission has responded to the people who took the time to attend last week" it was, "disappointing that Commissioner Helzerman is still looking for excuses as to why transparency is something the county shouldn't value," but added he was, "grateful that Commissioner Childs was able to provide some figures demonstrating the popularity of the broadcasting service over those 16 months that they had it. When not even a tenth of the online viewership could physically fit inside the meeting chamber, it is undeniable that the broadcasting is needed for the county to abide by the spirit of the Open Meetings Act. With last night's vote, I believe the participants and supporters of the people's filibuster can take pride in seeing how their activism is making a positive change within our county government."

The item of broadcasting meetings will be before the Finance Committee Wednesday morning and then the full board Monday night for potential final approval. (JM/JK)