SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — South Kingstown Town Councilors said they’d like to find a way to keep live broadcasts of their council meetings on public access cable, but also explore streaming meetings of other town boards online.
South Kingstown’s contract with Cox Communications for the live broadcasts expired Oct. 31, and Town Manager Rob Zarnetske was unsure if Monday’s regular meeting was being broadcast on the public access cable channel.
The cost of the three-year contract was $31,500, and Cox is looking for another three-year commitment if the town were to renew.
Monday’s meeting was still live-streamed online through the Clerkbase website, which also archives past council meetings for $6,000 per year.
Council member Deborah Kelso said that rather than spend $16,900 on a new carpet for the council chambers, the money instead should go toward keeping the live broadcasts going.
“I too was a Town Council viewer every other Monday night and understand the access that you’ll lose,” she said.
Town officials took a pause when the three-year Cox contract recently expired to explore the merits of saving money by rebroadcasting the recordings a day or two later for no fee, and perhaps deploying the funds to stream meetings such as those of the Planning Board.
“Since the start of the conversation, we think we’ve figured out some ways to achieve many of those objectives without 10,000 additional dollars,” Zarnetske said. “We may be able to do carpet, and figure out how to keep cable going and at the same time figure out how to get YouTube or something working for us for live broadcasts over the internet of some of these other meetings.”
The town broadcasts live to the Rhode Island Public Broadcast Service approximately 24 Town Council meetings per year. A DVD also is provided for rebroadcast the day after each scheduled meeting.
The town averages 52 online viewers per meeting. Viewership numbers are not available for the public access broadcast.
Because more people are using devices such as tablets and phones to view television content and the expense for live broadcast via cable television access are substantial, officials have been reluctant to renew the contract with Cox.
“This is going to require us to find a way to meet the public where they now are, which is Facebook and YouTube and Instagram,” Zarnetske said.
Resident Leslie Chouinard said many of the town’s aging population rely on the live broadcasts.
If they see a hot-button issue come up at a meeting and feel they need to comment, some have been known to get in their cars and come to Town Hall to get those comments on the record, Chouinard said.
They also aren’t as skilled with trying to set up a live stream or don’t have the technology to do so.
“I think the older voters want the live TV,” Chouinard said. “But if we could do both, that would be great.”
Councilor Rory McEntee said he would vote to keep the live broadcasts.
“Because we are elected officials, we should be held more accountable than those who are appointed to different boards and commissions by the council,” he said. “I think it’s important for the public to be informed. There are a lot of people out there who don’t know how to live stream the meetings.”
The council voted 4-1 to authorize the carpet replacement, with Kelso voting no, and voted to continue the cable broadcast issue to the next meeting while the town comes up with options for how to proceed.