Government meetings not a high priority for most locals

Peachtree City's website offers streaming video of its meetings, as does Fayette County. Photo/Peachtree City website.
Peachtree City's website offers streaming video of its meetings, as does Fayette County. Photo/Peachtree City website.

It is a standard feature of American life to complain about some of the actions of local government, and people not having a say in what transpires in meetings. With that in mind and knowing that only a small percentage of residents actually attend meetings, The Citizen conducted a review to see how many others watch the meetings online. The results were not impressive.

Considering both routine and controversial meetings, The Citizen wanted to see how many people watch the meetings online. Data was requested from the local jurisdictions for that viewership beginning in January 2018 and running through November.

Fayette County Commission broadcasts its meetings on a local cable access channel and streams those meetings on the county website. While there is no way to know the television viewership, the number of viewers online is posted on the meeting section of the county’s website.

Online viewership for the 21 meetings from January — November 2018 showed an average of 151 views per meeting. The largest number of views came from a meeting in February where there were 526 views, while the lowest viewership came at a September meeting with 46 views.

Actual in-person attendance at commission meetings varies from a dozen or two, excluding county staff, to 200 or more when topics viewed by some as controversial are on the agenda.

Even when attendance and streaming viewership are combined, and given the 2017 estimated county population of 112,549, the percentage of residents participating in the affairs of county government is extremely low.

Peachtree City streams City Council and Planning Commission meetings on the city’s website.

Online viewership for the 24 council meetings from January through November showed an average of 35 views, with the highest number coming for an October meeting that had 65 views, and the fewest at a March meeting with 13 views.

The Planning Commission held 14 meetings during the January through November time frame. Those meetings were accompanied with an average viewership of 14, with a high of 20 in March and a low of 2 in July.

As with other local government meetings, physical attendance at those in Peachtree City represents only a small fraction of the population. And as is customary, the largest attendance usually comes when an item seen as controversial, often one involving a development proposal, is on the agenda.

Peachtree City had a 2017 estimated population of 35,266.

The Fayette County Board of Education does not provide streaming content of school board meetings but does provide an audio podcast of those meetings shortly after the meetings are held. Podcasts are available on the school system’s website.

A review of those listening to the school board’s regular meetings from January through November 2018 showed an average of 305 people per meeting accessing the podcasts. Of those listening to the meetings, the high came in November with 935 listening to the podcast, while the low came in September with 103 listening.

Asked about the potential for the school board streaming its meetings once the new facilities at the Lafayette Education Center are operational in the coming months, Superintendent Jody Barrow said, “The idea of recording and/or live streaming has only been mentioned just briefly and deserves more study prior to the board considering a change of practice.”

Meetings of the school board have far less physical attendance than other government meetings. While it is the case that large numbers of people are often present when the meetings begin, virtually all of those people leave after their children receive the recognition that brought them to the meeting.

Looking at physical attendance over the past decade, and once the bulk of people leave after the recognition portion of the meeting, the meeting room is customarily populated school system employees and a small handful of parents or interested citizens.

The school system currently serves more than 20,300 children and their families.

Fayetteville is just beginning to stream its meetings. The venue currently being used is Facebook Live, and city staff will continue to tweak the audio, video and camera positions.

Though only a few meetings have been streamed to date, the video area of the city’s Facebook page showed that the Dec. 4 City Council town hall meeting generated 1,400 views, as of Dec. 17.

Similarly, the Nov. 27 meeting of the Fayetteville Planning and Zoning Commission meeting had 1,300 views.

It should be noted that there is significant work involved in effectively broadcasting a meeting, especially in a room, such as the council chambers in Fayetteville, which presents its own inherent difficulties associated with audio and lighting.

Fayetteville will stream meetings from the new City Hall facility on Stonewall Avenue, expected to open in summer 2020.

Like the other government entities in the county, physical attendance at council meetings is often low, except when the meeting contains an agenda item seen by some as controversial. Fayetteville’s 2017 estimated population was 17,802.

Tyrone does not currently stream its meetings. That could potentially change when the new town government complex is constructed on Handley Road. Though still in the early stages of planning, Mayor Eric Dial said that while not definitive at this point, it would be important to stream meetings.