SK’s aging population pushes for continuation of broadcast with Cox
SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Plans to discontinue live broadcast services with Cox Communications have been put on hold while Town Manager Robert Zarnetske looks into the possibility of not having to forgo the services, while still live streaming other board and committee meetings.
Originally, members of the council were considering doing away with live broadcasting of their meetings and instead channeling those funds into live streaming other meetings online, like the school building committee or planning board.
Many community members still rely on the live broadcast services, however, according to Leslie Chouinard of Peace Dale. She believes letting people watch the meetings from home in real-time is important, rather than having people tune in a day or two after the fact.
“I like it on the TV,” Chouinard said at Monday night’s town council meeting. “Because I am a dinosaur – I don’t do the live streaming.”
Many of her friends feel the same way, she said, and enjoy just being able to “turn on the television in the comfort of our own homes and not looking at little screens.”
The only data the town has, according to Zarnetske, is that 52 people live stream the meetings online. There is no way of knowing how many people are tuning in from home, he said.
“If that same number is the number using Channel 14 to access this information, in the live broadcast, then going live costs $8 per-person, per-meeting,” he explained.
The numbers are there though, according to Chouinard. She believes the live broadcasting expenses are worth the $10,000 South Kingstown spends every year to provide it.
“I just think it’s worth it,” Chouinard said. “I think it brings people together if they want to comment immediately on something. You won’t even get the phone calls because they’ll be here to talk with you.”
When Chouinard has seen something she’d wanted to comment on in the past during a live broadcast, she’s been able to hop in her car and drive down to town hall.
The debate amongst council members on whether or not to continue with the live broadcast services was sparked by a separate discussion about carpets, however.
On Monday night, the council voted 4-1 to award a contract to M&R Floors, Inc., based in Mapleville, “to furnish and install a new carpet and all the appurtenances in the Town Hall Council Chambers.” Councilwoman Deb Kelso, who cast the only dissenting vote, believes the $16,989 could be better spent on expanding live streaming services.
“I mean the carpet’s in bad shape, but it’s not that bad,” Kelso said. “Personally, I’d rather see the $16,500 go to Cox Communication live broadcast, as opposed to putting $16,500 on the floor.”
Although her fellow council members voted in favor of replacing the carpet in the council chambers, Kelso was not alone in her wish to continue live broadcasting. Councilman Rory McEntee also agreed that continuing to live broadcast is an important part of the body’s transparency with the public.
“Because we are elected officials, we should be held more accountable to those appointed to different boards and commissions by the council,” McEntee said. “For that reason, I think we should continue our contract with Cox Communications. I think it’s important for the public to be informed.”
“There are a lot of people out there who don’t even know how to live stream meetings,” he added. “I think it’s important that our meetings are live, on television, for our residents to see.”
For those who don’t already know how to live stream, it can be a difficult process, according to McEntee. Having residents tune in, as long as they know the time and date of the meeting, is much easier.
“If they have to live stream, they may not watch,” McEntee said.
Kelso echoed similar concerns for South Kingstown’s fastest-growing demographic.
“My concern for discontinuing the live broadcast is that we have an aging population,” Kelso said. “A lot of seniors don’t have smart TVs, a laptop – a way to stream this.”
For those who might not have internet access, Kelso added that Cox Communications provides basic cable for low-income households.
“I think it’s really important that we keep the live broadcast going until we can ascertain, can we can see really, what the impact of discontinuing it is,” she said.
Town Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz agreed that it’s important for the public to be able to watch town council meetings, though he also argued that there are many other meetings and commissions that the public are not able to keep up with yet.
Da Cruz, who also serves on the school building committee, has been particularly concerned about community members not being able to participate. The meetings, held on Wednesday mornings during normal working hours, make it challenging or even impossible for some people to attend.
He stated he was in favor of finding “a win-win” situation that would allow for the continuation of the broadcast services, as well as more live streaming options.
By losing a day and airing the meeting at a later date the town had hoped to use broadcasting funds for “video equipment and folks posting other meetings,” according to Zarnetske.
“The loss is a day,” Zarnetske said. “That was the rationale behind this proposal. We lose a day, but we don’t lose the bites, we don’t lose the bites and we don’t lose the video. It’s still there, it’s just coming a day late.”
Apart from meetings happening during normal business hours, Chouinard argued that being able to live stream meetings like the planning board isn’t as vital.
“People will go to the meetings that affect them,” she said. “If the planning board affects me, I’m going to be at the meeting. I don’t see all of a sudden that they’ll turn into the planning board or whatever. I just don’t see that happening.”
“The town council is different,” she added. “You are our elected officials. Whatever happens in the town affects all of us.”
Although the majority of people today consume information online, opposed to turning on their television set, Zarnetske said the town can not just discount those who are not in the majority on this.”
“We owe an obligation of transparency and communication to everybody,” he said.
The issue is frustrating for those on both sides of the issue, but many “are feeling that we’re not on the channels they’re on,” Zarnetske said.
“We’re not on Facebook the same way they would like us to be,” Zarnetske said. “We’re not on Instagram at all. We’re not on YouTube – you can’t just hit ‘Click Here’ and watch the last planning board meeting. This room is rarely full, but the internet is.”
Town Council President Abel Collins said he can see both sides of the issue, though he noted that “there have been a number of complaints in town that people don’t have access to boards and commissions.”
‘They don’t feel there’s enough transparency around here,” he said. “I think if there’s a way to live stream boards and commission without a big expense, I think we should try to do both.”