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Originally published December 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 26, 2007 at 12:38 PM

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Streaming live video in County Council's future

For the YouTube generation, accustomed to instant access to online entertainment, this news may seem a bit ho-hum. But the notion of live-streaming...

Times Snohomish County bureau

For the YouTube generation, accustomed to instant access to online entertainment, this news may seem a bit ho-hum.

But the notion of live-streaming Snohomish County Council meetings on the Internet, with user-friendly video archives of past meetings and click-and-you've-got-it access to hundreds — and eventually thousands — of documents and maps, is a big deal for fans of open government.

Snohomish County is a new client of Granicus, a San Francisco-based company that provides audio, video and other Internet services for 300 governments across the country, including more than a dozen in this state.

The county's new Web pages are under construction, with a target date of Feb. 1 for the first live broadcast of a County Council meeting.

Mountlake Terrace is the company's only other Snohomish County client, offering live and archived audio broadcasts of city meetings since May. Next year, the city plans to launch video-meeting broadcasts and archives on the Web, said City Clerk Virginia Olsen.

Other branches of Snohomish County government also are expected to make use of the new technology, offering online videos on topics such as parks, disaster preparedness, fire safety or modern farming techniques.

"We're joining the 21st century," said Peter Camp, an executive director to County Executive Aaron Reardon. "The burden is on us to make it easy for the citizens. You shouldn't have to burrow through 16 Web pages to figure something out."

Voters in November 2006 approved an amendment to the county charter regarding "transparency in government," including provisions for providing timely County Council information to the public, varying public meeting times and clearly recording the votes cast by individual council members.

The council this year responded by holding eight night meetings, providing more opportunities for public comment and hiring a new spokesman, Fred Bird, whose job has included adding content to the council's Web site.

"This is the crown jewel of the whole [transparency] operation," said Dave Gossett, council chairman. "It will make it much easier for people to know what's going on."

County Council chambers in the new administration building, which opened in 2005, came wired for three digital-video cameras — two in the back of the room and one behind the council dais.

Two cameras were installed at that time; they're already out of date and are being given to the county court system for video arraignments.

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Two new cameras will be installed for the webcasts. They will provide a broad shot of the room with an angled view of the podium where members of the public speak, to minimize potential stunts by publicity hounds seeking their own 15 seconds of fame.

"We're not looking for anything that goes straight to YouTube," said Council Clerk Kathryn Bratcher.

Digital audio recordings of council meetings have been available for about five years, but through a cumbersome process. Those who wish to listen to old meetings must obtain a CD of the proceedings and download a specialty software program needed to play it.

An equally clumsy tool allows a limited number of people to listen by telephone to live council meetings.

The new technology will provide a Web menu for each recorded meeting, so viewers may skip directly to specific agenda items of interest. Other links will provide access to county documents related to each subject.

County Council documents dating back to 1980 already have been stored in the county's new digital-imaging system, which will become available to the public sometime next year. "It's [the equivalent of] reels and reels if microfilm," Bratcher said.

The Granicus software cost about $53,000, and the company is charging $2,100 per month to host all of the county's data. The council also spent $2,400 for two servers and probably will spend an additional $1,200 for the replacement video cameras.

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

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