The Hobbs City Commission voted last week to begin webcasting its meetings and archiving video online for people to watch at their convenience.
Activists are pleased with the step, but some will continue pushing for more.
On a 4-3 vote, the commission approved a webcasting option on June 6 that includes purchasing three cameras and other equipment for just under $9,000 and paying an annual fee of $2,388 for use of a streaming service offered by the company Livestream.
“It gets more people involved in the process, and if it does that, we’re all winners,” Commissioner Jonathan Sena, who voted for the proposal, was quoted by the Hobbs News-Sun as saying.
The Commission chose the Livestream option instead of a pricier but more sophisticated option offered by Granicus that allows indexing — which means people watching archived video would also see a meeting agenda and could click on an item that’s of interest to skip directly to that point in the meeting.
The City of Las Cruces is among governments in New Mexico that use Granicus and its indexing feature.
Byron Marshall, a Hobbs resident who has been pushing for webcasting for the past 18 months, called the city commission’s vote “a step in the right direction.”
“My only concern is that there were not enough options presented in this process — and something that would have been a better solution for long-term was out there and was ignored,” Marshall said. “I sincerely hope this move by Hobbs City Commission was an attempt at true transparency and not just a small token to placate Hobbs citizens who demand transparency at every level of public service.”
Dennis Barcuch of Hobbs, who’s also led the push for webcasting, called the implementation of live streaming and archiving of public meetings “a great first step.” Barcuch also wants indexing and a chat feature that gives people watching meetings online the ability to discuss what’s happening with each other.
“We believe that only when the people of Hobbs can see what others say about a topic can an idea become viral,” Barcuch said. “… We aim to bring the voices together so that a strong idea, like a ripe fruit, gets picked on time, before it dies on the vine.”
Barcuch pointed to the public pressure Hobbs residents have placed on the commission to begin webcasting — which has included writing letters and commentaries, doing research on streaming systems used in Las Cruces and elsewhere, speaking with commissioners about the proposal, amateur citizen webcasting of meetings, and creation of a Facebook group. He said he is “tremendously grateful to all of the citizens who supported us to bring the city one stage closer to transparency.”
Hobbs has been behind the curve when it comes to webcasting. The state’s largest cities — Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe — all webcast and archive meetings of their governing boards, as do many smaller towns including Las Vegas, Silver City and Socorro.
Hobbs has been broadcasting commission meetings on a local radio station. That’s helpful for people who can listen live, but not those who are busy with jobs, families or other activities. People can buy a CD containing an audio recording of a meeting if they have the money and means to pick it up.
Archiving video of meetings online will mean people can watch it any time.
In voting against the webcasting proposal at the June 6 meeting, Hobbs Commissioner Marshall Newman said he favored the pricier option that included indexing.
“Because of the indexing, it’s easier for citizens to review a meeting afterward and just point and click, and that’s what I was looking for,” the News-Sun quoted Newman as saying.
Commissioner Garry Buie, on the other hand, voted against webcasting because of its cost. He said he was concerned about falling gross receipts tax revenue, according to the News-Sun. Buie said he favors webcasting, “but I don’t think it has to be provided at this point in time.”