Schaumburg mulls whether to stream meetings, how to measure success
As Schaumburg officials close in on deciding whether to video record and stream their village board meetings, they're also considering what criteria to use to determine whether the proposed trial period is a success or failure.
"It really comes down to one thing, and it's viewership," said Trustee Tom Dailly, who proposed exploring such a test period last month.
He suggests looking at two sets of numbers -- how many people are watching live and how many have watched by a week later on YouTube.
"If we get 20 people looking at it, is it worth it?" he asked. "From a transparency standpoint, it's something governmental entities are doing."
Village staff are expected to report on how easily and inexpensively equipment might be acquired for what may be no more than a short trial period, during the administrative and general government committee meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Last month, Village Manager Brian Townsend provided a preliminary estimate of $12,000 to $15,000 for three cameras and other necessary equipment. Whatever the upfront costs prove to be, Townsend estimated there would be an ongoing cost in staff time of about $50 per meeting.
It's this ongoing cost that inspires Dailly to measure the benefits in terms of view counts.
His fellow trustee, Marge Connelly, expressed even stronger skepticism at last month's committee meeting. She said she'd never heard anyone request videorecorded village board meetings, and asked that the measurement of viewership do more than record how many people click on for a moment.
Dailly said there are different approaches to take with video recording meetings -- from the very professional look Hoffman Estates has maintained for the past decade to the single static camera Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 started using about six months ago.
"My idea is we should be more like District 211," Dailly said. "It's giving you the gist of what's going on there."
What Schaumburg is specifically considering is to include the output of three static cameras in one frame without cutting between them. Two cameras would separately record both halves of the village board dais, while a third would record the podium where residents address the board.
Both Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod and District 211 board President Mucia Burke agreed transparency was the biggest boon of video recording meetings. They could think of no downsides.
While much discussion preceded their boards' decisions to video record, they said it's never occurred to them to stop the practice once they started.
"I think showing the meetings is another method of keeping the public informed," McLeod said.
He doesn't believe large numbers of people are glued to the meetings live on Monday nights on Comcast. However, McLeod said he sees evidence people are familiar with watching the village board at work when its members meet the public at events or go door-to-door campaigning.
Though McLeod didn't know an exact average viewership per meeting for this year, he said he is confident it was well above 20 viewers.
In District 211, there are 11 meeting videos posted on its website between March 16 and Oct. 19. The average number of views per meeting was 68 as of Thursday, with the smallest viewership being 31 for the April 27 organizational meeting and 123 for the regular meeting of June 15.
Burke said that while viewership numbers haven't been high in District 211's earliest months of posting the videos on its website, she anticipates that particular issues will drive higher numbers in the future.
After school board worked to find a reasonable compromise between cost and quality, Burke said she hasn't found the expense of the videos a major issue.
"I don't think we'll stop doing it," Burke said. "I think it serves a good function if it fits into your budget. It's the ultimate in transparency."
The Northwest Municipal Conference, which represents 45 Chicago-area suburbs, last surveyed its members about the video recording and streaming of their meetings three years ago. At that time, 13 of the 17 respondents said they were showing their meetings on video in some format. Schaumburg was not among the respondents to that survey.