In a step toward increasing transparency, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District will examine broadcasting its meetings.
On Thursday, the board voted in support of directing staff to investigate possible costs and options — including archiving, security and equipment — for live streaming TNRD board meetings either on Facebook or the TNRD website.
The motion was made by Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger, who said it is about accessibility and transparency.
“I think we can enhance that significantly through live streaming,” Rothenburger said, requesting short- and long-term options on a day when the board met for the first time in the Valley First Lounge at Sandman Centre to allow for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kamloops city council had live streamed its meetings in the same room two days earlier. In fact, unlike the regional district, the city’s meetings are regularly broadcast, even though it is not required to do so by legislation.
The regional district has come under scrutiny in the past for issues concerning transparency, including the matter of tabulating votes, which is not done in the UBCM unless a director requests their vote be included in the minutes. As a result, residents do not know how directors representing them vote on a given issue, unless they attend the meeting in person, with most meetings held in downtown Kamloops during daytime working hours.
The regional district spans a vast geographic area and meetings occasionally rotate out of town. Rothenburger had put forward a motion last year to track votes electronically. At that time, Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh put forward an amendment rejected by the include broadcasting meetings. Both initiatives were overwhelmingly rejected by board, leading Kamloops Coun. Kathy Sinclair to call for the issue to be revisited.
On Thursday, however, the motion passed with either one or no votes in opposition, though it is not clear as, per TNRD practise, votes were not counted.
Rothenburger said the idea was well-supported in principle, which he noted was encouraging.
Asked what changed this time, Rothenburger said the regional district’s brief experience with broadcasting meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, at which time a couple of meetings were streamed live on Facebook, with the public not allowed to attend.
“It showed that the public has some interest in being able to have access to our regular meetings and I think that might have convinced some of the other directors, ‘Yeah, the time has come,’” Rothenburger told KTW.
“But also, I think that as time goes on, you start to realize that we need to change the way we’re going about, providing access to the proceedings of the regional district, and many other cities and regional districts have gone to live streaming. We are actually kind of in a minority now, at this point. It’s time to look at it seriously.”
Kamloops Coun. Mike O’Reilly said he has wondered in the past how many people tune into the city’s broadcast, but pointed to a public hearing this week as an “eye-opener,” with more than 30 households participating digitally. He said amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the regional district needs to engage its residents in a way that does not require them being physically in the room, suggesting the investment would pay off in the long-term.
“This is a long-term play for us,” O’Reilly said, voting in favour of the motion.
Also voting in favour was Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian, though he noted volunteers have operated the city broadcast in the past.
“I support administration taking a look at it, but I think that we have to be conscious about the value for dollar, in terms of what this could cost based on the number of people who might be watching,” he said.