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Grand Traverse, MI : GT Embraces Internet, Electorate

August 22, 2008
Original Publication by
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Just over a year ago Grand Traverse County Commissioner Christine Maxbauer sued the county for Open Meetings Act violations after fellow board members said they didn't want her to tape their annual goal-setting session and refused to continue the meeting until she promised not to turn on her camera.

The county settled out of court.

For at least 20 years before that, the county board consistently refused to allow their meetings to be broadcast on the local public access channel. Their transparently false excuse was that it was too expensive -- about $20,000 a year out of a general fund budget (for 2008) of $37 million.

How times change.

In January, commissioners agreed to let meetings be televised. Earlier this week the board said it will pay New York based IQM2 Intelligent Meeting Management $33,300 over three years to stream some meetings live on the Internet, archive that material and create meeting management tools.

Grand Traverse will be the first county in Michigan to broadcast live on the Internet and offer a searchable format for archived meetings.

The IQM2 software will allow viewers to jump to specific agenda items of a meeting video while simultaneously viewing the written minutes and accessing the same background documents commissioners are given. Viewers also will be able to search up to a year of archived county board and committee meetings by keyword.

The county will at first stream its five monthly committee meetings and the county board meeting. It may later add meetings of other related boards.

It is an astounding reversal that longtime county watchers may find hard to believe. But those who have looked closely at recent election results know that times -- and the electorate -- have changed.

More and more, voters and taxpayers want to know who is making -- and influencing -- policy and why. Who appears to have the ear of the board? Which commissioners seem willing to confront problems and solve them? Is the administration doing its job? Candidates who promise greater transparency and accountability are winning, and others are taking note.

Traverse City residents know that the best way to decide how their elected officials are doing is to watch the city commission in action. They've been able to do that for a couple decades now; while some meetings are deathly dull, hot topics bring out the viewers. When issues like the failed parking deck and the Time Myth sculpture are being discussed, people tune in and learn.

County commissioners deserve credit for recognizing that this is the people's business and their own obligation to let the public in on the act. When they went, they went big.

Maxbauer had it right a year ago and she had it right this week: "An informed public makes better choices, that's what it's all about."

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