In a 4-1 vote, the Waxahachie City Council voted to deny city-hosted live streaming of all public meetings and briefings that take place in city hall.
The action taken May 21 by the council does not prohibit residents from live streaming public meetings with their own equipment. Residents regularly live stream meetings through social media outlets such as Facebook.
City council member Melissa Olson presented the item to the council for consideration. Olson stated that live streaming meetings fosters transparency in the decision process.
“The reasons for live streaming are number one to bring the meetings to those who can’t attend," Olson said. "We can’t schedule all meetings to accommodate all persons in Waxahachie so live streaming will really help us."
Olson stated the information from the stream would help bring the community together, educate people, and reduce demands placed on the city for information.
Mayor Kevin Strength stated that he sees both sides of the issue, but that it would not be practical for all of the various city boards.
“We have lots of boards and commissions that meet at different places all over the city,” Strength said. “All of these boards are advisory boards. The ultimate decision is with the council.”
Strength stated the costs, efforts and times to place streaming devices in every building would be a "waste."
Olson responded that the request was limited to meetings at city hall and it is up to the resident "whether they watch it.”
Mayor Pro Tem David Hill stated by streaming meetings, the board loses the ability to have robust discussions.
“What streaming does is we really can’t be honest in our communications. Sometimes you have to have some pretty frank discussions,” Hill said. “Sometimes there are people that would twist it and change the point. I am not for it at all.”
Hill stated city staff works to be transparent daily responding to public information requests.
Council Member Mary Lou Shipley stated she is in favor of transparency but feels that it is not practical to live stream every single meeting.
“I have no objection in live streaming the city council and the planning zoning commission meeting that are held right here in this room, but I really don’t see the need to go beyond that,” Shipley said. “The decisions made in all those other committees are all referred to the city council.”
Shipley added to take streaming beyond planning and zoning and council is an overreach.
Council Member Chuck Beatty feels a live steam of all meetings could pose some unforeseen challenges.
“We want to encourage people to come to meetings, and live streaming might discourage them," Beatty said. “Secondly it sets a means to grandstand. People see a camera they want to go long winded and say a lot of stuff and cater to another audience.”
Before the council took the vote, several members of the public advocated the use of the technology.
Resident Kathy Ponce told the council she was surprised the city had not already taken this step.
“I know that you don’t have to live stream unless you reach a population of 50,000, but there are a lot of smaller cities that do,” Ponce said. “I travel a lot, and I would like to be able to watch city council meetings.”
Fellow resident Andrew Mashburn also gave his support to better-utilizing technology.
“I would implore the council to consider stream and be transparent with the public,” Mashburn said. “When you are streaming you are not trying to hide anything.”
Resident Amy Hedtke encouraged the council to vote in favor of the proposed motion.
Olson first made a motion to approve the request for live streaming. Her proposal died for lack of a second. The council then moved, seconded and voted to deny the request.
Olson stated she was disappointed in the way the vote turned out but will revisit it in the future. She noted transparency is "how you learn."