March 15 is opening night for video broadcasts of Leander City Council meetings. The seven council members, city manager and supporting cast of city staff will appear on camera at the Pat Bryson Municipal Hall on North Brushy Street starting at 7 p.m.
Residents can view a live stream of the City Council meeting on a personal computer, tablet or smartphone. An archive of the video also will be available from the city. Until now, only audio archives of the meeting were available by request.
Council members say they welcome the addition of video coverage even though it means they can be seen as well as heard at meetings by residents who did not attend.
“I am actually not the biggest fan of being on video,” said Place 2 Council Member Michelle Stephenson. “I don’t plan to do anything different but I do hope to never have to watch myself!”
“I am excited for the residents of Leander and hope they make use of this new technology,” said Place 4 Council Member Ron Abruzzese. “Hopefully this will lead to a more informed Leander and increase the interaction between residents and the council.”
Place 6 Council Member Troy Hill made light of his movie star appearance but said his job on the council dias would not change with video recording taking place.
“I am excited about the opportunity to have more Leander residents participating in our council meetings by watching at home,” Hill said. “I believe in accountability and transparency and this allows anyone to watch their elected representatives in action and will hopefully be a force for more votes that reflect residents' values.”
For residents who choose to attend council meetings in person, Public Information Officer Michael Neu said the proceedings will be visible on a 120-inch flat panel video screen and on two 80-inch monitors in the council chambers.
Enhanced viewing of meetings in person or on video screens, including meeting agendas visible next to the proceedings, is hoped to increase interest in council business.
“These resources will offer Leander citizens another convenient option to observe our city council meetings, ” Neu said. “Hopefully, this will encourage more citizens to learn about and follow policy making at the local level.”
The council had been meeting at the Hill Country Bible Church Leander since October while renovations were underway at the municipal hall. City staff set up the council dias on folding tables on the church sanctuary stage and Neu ran the sound system through cables taped to the floor.
Council meetings moved to Bryson Hall in February while the bugs were still being worked out of the sound system. The city moved its building permits and inspections, planning, engineering, economic development, and municipal court staff to the new location last month, as well.
The new sound and video system is being installed by Swagit Productions from Dallas. Neu will direct the meeting sound and lighting with the help of an assistant but those functions can also be directed remotely. Swagit’s other local clients include the Lake Travis School District and the Austin City Council.
The city’s Capital Improvement Project budget for the remodeling of the Pat Bryson Municipal Hall is $2.2 million through the 2018 budget year. The budget includes the new video and sound system in council chambers. It also covers gutting the old fire station and building a modern office with re-keyed access cards to make access to the council chambers more secure. The city is planning to hold municipal court in the chambers but the sessions will not be shown on video.
“Security in various parts of the building were upgraded to match the needs of city services being provided,” Neu said. “Magnetic card access, security cameras, and various other measures were included to safeguard the resources each of the divisions manage on a daily basis.”
The city does not plan to start a cable-access television channel immediately. For now, Leander will live stream and archive video and audio recordings only for regular council meetings.
The grand opening of the the Pat Bryson Municipal Hall, named for a former long-term mayor of the city, is planned for later this spring.