Meetings will be streamed, stored
People will be able to watch the county commissioners in action — without traveling to Okanogan — via a new video service the county is installing in August.
The video system will stream meetings live and create a permanent archive of searchable videos accessed through the Okanogan County website.
Cameras, microphones and software are being installed this week and the system is expected to be live Monday (Aug. 10) if all goes smoothly, Clerk of the Board Laleña Johns said.
The videos will be created by AV Capture All, an audio-video company based in Bothell that creates and archives videos for counties and cities across the country, including the city of Spokane and San Juan and Franklin counties.
Up to 500 hours of video of commissioners’ meetings will be available on the county’s website through a link to AV Capture’s cloud storage. Older videos will be available by records request, Johns said.
The videos will be watchable on any device and with any browser, said Price Harmon, sales lead for AV Capture.
AV Capture’s software automatically indexes topics in the agenda and supporting documents so that a user can search for keywords or an ordinance number and go directly to the discussion in the video. The software also creates hyperlinks and time stamps so the video will fast-forward or rewind to that part of the meeting, Harmon said. The search will also bring up archived videos that match.
Keywords need to be part of the agenda or a supporting document — the system won’t look for a word in an impromptu discussion among commissioners, Harmon said.
The commissioners have been looking into the possibility of videotaping their sessions for some time, but the ability to archive that much data — and make it available to people who request public records — had always been a hurdle, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said in an interview this week.
But making their meetings available to the public through Zoom during the COVID pandemic has shown how many more people can participate, Hover said. The commissioners have always wanted more participation — often, the hearing room is empty except for a note-taker from the citizens’ group Okanogan County Watch — but people can’t attend if they have to be at work or have other commitments, Hover said.
“Zoom opened my eyes — we get public participation, and people don’t have to drive over,” Hover said.
The commissioners had already been planning to continue Zoom for meetings so people can listen even after in-person meetings resume, Hover said. But they asked Central Services Director Karen Beatty to see if there is an economical way to produce videos of the meeting. When Beatty proposed the AV Capture system, it seemed ideal — people can hear the full discussions and get a better understanding of the issues, he said.
CARES Act funding
To make the recordings, a video camera will be installed near the entrance to the commissioners’ hearing room so that it captures the commissioners’ podium, the presentation screen, and another podium for staff and members of the public, Johns said. They’re acquiring wireless microphones for the public podium.
The video system will require software upgrades, camera and mics, and an annual subscription to AV Capture (which includes their proprietary video software).
The county has to upgrade the software that runs county departments anyway — a $16,000 annual increase just for the commissioners’ department. The county already spends hundreds of thousands of dollars for software licenses for various departments, Hover said.
Because the videos will provide public access while meetings are restricted because of COVID, the county can use CARES Act funding for the cameras and initial upgrade, Hover said. The annual subscription to AV Capture is around $5,000.
Working with a dedicated company like AV Capture is the only way for the county to retain control over the files, Johns said. Some counties post videos to YouTube, but it’s not clear if that would satisfy requirements for open public records. “What if YouTube goes away or goes bankrupt?” she said.
Videos will be archived in three places — on the Okanogan County computer that recorded the meeting, a county back-up, and an AV Capture back-up, Harmon said. “We’ve been assured they will be saved forever,” Johns said. They’ll ultimately be archived by the Washington State Archives, Hover said.
The videos may also provide efficiencies for the clerk of the board, allowing the official written minutes to be briefer, since the complete discussion will be archived on video, Johns said.
Johns will still take written minutes, as required by law, but the videos will provide valuable context by including the commissioners’ discussions and deliberations.
Sometimes informal conversations among the commissioners are among the most enlightening for the public in understanding county issues. “It’s a huge advantage to written minutes, by capturing more than a motion [for a vote],” Johns said. “You need to lay out the tone and the discussion leading up to a decision.”
Written minutes of the commissioners’ proceedings are digitized and saved as the official record. Once they’re digitized, the text is completely searchable, letting Johns search for specific terms to fulfill records requests or to compile history or details about county business.
The county hopes to videotape other meetings, too, such as the Planning Commission or Board of Equalization, Johns said.