The smartphone-wielding public captures everything from live music shows to political rallies and their children's dance recitals to customer service interactions at fast-food restaurants. But city council meetings, too, are often the subject of residents' cellphone videos.
Anyone can make audio and video recordings of council meetings. There should be no expectation of privacy at a public meeting. There are limits to how an individual may record the meeting, however, relating to whether the individual is disrupting the meeting. The Freedom of Information Act "does not prohibit the removal of any person who willfully disrupts a meeting to the extent that orderly conduct of a meeting is seriously compromised." However, removal should be a last resort after the presiding officer has made every reasonable effort to restore order.
But in many instances, residents don't need to take matters into their own hands. Municipalities large and small commonly make city council meetings easily viewable through live streaming video and even public video archives.
The Town of Irmo does both. By buying its own equipment, the town was able to avoid monthly vendor fees.
"We operate and store the digital videos in house," said Renee Caviness, clerk/treasurer of the Town of Irmo, adding that the town purchased the video equipment for about $30,000. The equipment is linked to the town's website using the town YouTube account.
Irmo residents have come to rely on the service.
"They love it and watch it," said Caviness. "If it does not work or there is an interruption in the live streaming, they let Council know immediately. Some residents come to the meeting and live stream it from their cellphones and post on their Facebook account."
She said the town does the live streaming on the town's website, and then after a day or so, she puts the video on the site's "Meeting, Agendas & Minutes" page.
In the City of Marion, council meetings are videotaped through a service provided by a local TV station, Hometown TV 8, through a local cable franchise agreement.
"We began our partnership with Hometown TV 8 in 2008 in an effort to provide our residents with convenient access to our public meetings," said Lakesha Shannon, city clerk/business license official. "This partnership has helped us offer more transparency to our residents by providing access to the most current business of the city."
Marion City Council's current meeting broadcast is aired every Saturday on their station, and the video is also available on the station's website.
The city pays a monthly fee that includes the council meeting and other recordings. The video recordings are archived with the company, and DVDs are available to the city upon request. The city pays nothing for the council meeting broadcast but does pay for event and business advertising. A city-hosted talk show costs the city $350 per month, while advertising is about $400 per month.
"We immediately saw this as an opportunity to provide more information to our residents," said Shannon. "We began broadcasting our public meetings and advertising city events and local business."
The City of Marion also uses the station to broadcast a sports talk show called "Hometown Sports Talk" and a city talk show called "Swamp Fox Country," which is hosted by the mayor and city administrator and features a special guest.
"Public meeting access through this local station has helped us tremendously in communicating information to our residents and giving them a firsthand look at the matters addressed by our City Council," said Shannon.