Times Editorial: If you stream it, people will watch

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    Continuous efforts on the part of our City of Crookston leaders to communicate better in recent years usually in the next breath are followed by either the word “transparent” or another form of the same word, “transparency.”

    City leaders say they want to be more transparent. They don’t want their constituents to ever think that they’re ever trying to hide anything or pull the wool over their eyes.

    It’s a noble, understandable goal.

    For a while now, audio from meetings in the city hall council chambers has been made available to anyone who wants to listen. First, the meetings were recorded and the recordings were posted on the City website after various city council and Ways & Means Committee meetings. Then efforts were ramped up and the meetings were audiostreamed live.

    But it was glitchy, sometimes real glitchy. But, recently, City IT Director Philip Barton, with an assist from none other than Times Assistant Editor Jess Bengtson, was able to improve the live audiostream, and things seem to be working.

    But if you seriously want to be transparent, it’s still not enough. For one thing, unless they’re familiar with the mayor’s voice and all of the council member and City staff’s voices, listeners don’t know who’s talking at any particular moment. That’s a problem.

    Thanks to funds made available through the federal CARES Act, which exists because of financial losses experienced far and wide by the COVID-19 pandemic, things might soon make a major leap forward for the better.

    The council last week approved a $23,000 expense, using CARES Act money, for audiovisual equipment to be purchased and installed at Valley Technology Park, home to CHEDA and the recently renovated lobby that is now home to a nice public meeting/gathering space. If a CHEDA Board meeting or some other type of meeting is held there and organizers want to livestream it, they’ll be able to.

    In approving the purchase, council members expressed interest in spending similar CARES Act dollars to outfit the council chambers with similar equipment. Interim City Administrator Angel Weasner is going to come back to the council soon with some numbers.

    It would be money well-spent.

    Let’s face it, some people are what you could best label as willfully ignorant. It’s like they go out of their way to not know things so when decisions are about to be made they can say, “I had no idea about this!” With a local newspaper and radio station that enthusiastically and aggressively cover local government, it’s incredibly frustrating.

    But there are people that want to be informed. There are people that want to be engaged and want to have a voice when decisions are made that affect them and their community. But their lives and schedules are busy, hectic, frenetic...we’ve all been there and many are still there right now.

    Being able to hop online while multitasking to see and hear their community leaders in action – Don’t just put it on Channel 3, which few people have access to anymore! – would amount to a massive boost on the City of Crookston’s transparency meter.

    So let’s make it happen.

Mike Christopherson