Upgrades allow City Council to go paperless, offer streaming live video of meetings

A new way of doing business

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Along with a number of technology upgrades, Camas has a redesigned city logo. It can be found on all city documents, business cards as well as imprinted on the wall of the council chambers at City Hall. Mayor Scott Higgins said the change to the logo was part of a citywide "branding" effort. "The hope is that everything that comes out of the city looks the same," he said. "You know it's from Camas."

Citizens who are unable — or unwilling — to attend the Monday night meetings of the Camas City Council at City Hall now have quick access to live and archived video of those events.

Real-time online video streaming of the twice-monthly City Council meetings and workshops, as well as archived videos of past meetings since Oct. 1 — all integrated with the agendas — are available at the click of a mouse through the city’s website:

The technology upgrades have led to some visible changes inside the council chambers at City Hall where there are now several video cameras capturing meeting discussions, an updated audio sound system, two 60-inch flat screen monitors for use during presentations, and a mini video control center where the system can be regulated by city staff.

Councilwoman Shannon Turk said the improvements provide the public with greater overall access.

“The core benefit will be that [citizens] are able to have real time information, if they don’t have time to come down to a council meeting,” she said. “They are able to go back to see what we were doing and the discussion we had. I think it will help out with having people understand the decisions we make.”

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins and all members of the City Council also now use iPads to conduct city business at and away from City Hall, in part in an effort to move to a paperless system when it comes to meeting agendas and supporting documentation.

City councilors were given the option of using their own wireless devices and receiving a stipend of $25 per month for WiFi, or having the city purchase a device for their use. Higgins and council members Steve Hogan, Don Chaney, Tim Hazen and Turk all purchased their own iPads. Linda Dietzman, Greg Anderson and Melissa Smith use city owned mobile devices purchased for $648 apiece, including a case and tax. Six additional iPads have been purchased for use by city staff.

All elected officials have been required to sign the city’s network use policy.

These changes are part of a technology upgrade that has been underway since Higgins was appointed mayor in June 2011. In the 2012 budget $45,000 was set aside for the effort, funded using real estate excise taxes with some operating costs paid out of the general fund.

A major element of the project is Granicus software that has been implemented to help reduce the amount of time an administrative assistant spends on agenda and meeting preparation, attending meetings, note taking, and transcribing the minutes.

According to a service agreement approved by the City Council the initial cost of the software was $6,325. A monthly maintenance fee of $1,090 covers licensing, updates and maintenance costs, and information storage and online access.

“It is clearly the way the world is going,” Higgins has said of the new technology. “To me, it just makes sense. It is a more efficient way to do city business.”

According to Higgins, cost savings is not a primary driver for the project but could eventually be a fringe benefit.

“This is something that has the potential to help us be better legislators,” Higgins said. “And if it can save the city some money, that’s great.”

Turk said using the iPad for city business makes her more accessible to citizens when they have questions or concerns.

“I’m more connected to e-mail correspondence now because I have my iPad with me all of the time, so I can check it right away,” Turk said. “Before, there would sometimes be a lapse in time before I would be able to sit down, log in and check my e-mail. It has helped me to be more responsive to the citizens, for sure.”

Chaney said the new technology allows constituents to get a wide range of information quickly and conveniently. In addition, he hopes it will have a side benefit of reducing the amount of staff time that has been needed in the past to fulfill public records requests.

“I am hopeful and optimistic that as we join the modern era of technology that the citizens will realize that all of this is now available to them from their homes,” Chaney said. “I think that is really the purpose — to become visible and transparent.”