Woodside: Mixed opinions on Webcasting town meetings
Public comment on Webcasting fell something short of a stampede at the March 13 Woodside Town Council meeting. A handful of people, supporters, critics and the merely dubious, weighed in on a plan to make video of Woodside town meetings available online.
After an anonymous donor attempted to pay for a year's worth of Webcasting service, the Town Council asked for public comment to determine if anyone wanted to watch meetings online.
After hearing from residents, council members directed staff to research various options for recording and distributing video of meetings, and return with a report so council members can decide where to put it on the town's list of priorities.
"I'm in favor of this, or something like this," said Woodside resident Brian Pinkerton. "I'm not always available at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night."
He was one of four people who spoke at the meeting and said they liked the concept, and would appreciate the ability to multitask at home while keeping track of Town Council meetings.
Currently, Woodside council meetings are tape-recorded, with audiotapes and written meeting minutes available to the public. Someone from Citizens of Woodside, or COW, an anonymously run online blog, recently sent a courier to Town Hall with a cashier's check for $31,045 and a letter stating it was to be used only for Webcasting town meetings.
Town Manager Susan George refused the money, saying she couldn't accept an anonymous check for a restricted purpose without permission from the Town Council, a move that inspired an angry online reaction from the COW blogger.
While proponents said Webcasting would promote openness in town government, others predicted it would have a chilling effect on public participation at meetings.
"There are a lot of people who like their privacy in this town," said Woodside resident Stephanie MacDonald. "Forcing people to be in a streaming video on the World Wide Web, I think it would prevent me from coming down here."
She was one of three speakers expressing opposition.
Woodside resident Anne Kasten, who is also a member of the town's Architectural and Site Review Board, said she wasn't sure that multitasking while tuning into town meetings from home would result in better government. "In the process of managing our town and our future, we should give it our full attention," Ms. Kasten said.
The topic also raised comments from a contingent from the Old La Honda Road Association. Association members used the issue to remind the council that more than a hundred households in their neighborhood don't have access to cable or high-speed Internet service, saying that it's nearly impossible for them to watch streaming video with dial-up Internet service.
"Whatever decision is made, I ask that it be available to each and everyone who lives in Woodside," said Old La Honda Road resident Bruce Halperin.
Several speakers, on both sides of the issue, brought up concerns about COW's handling of the Webcasting donation.
"I'm really not in favor of the Town Council accepting a gift from an anonymous or unidentified source with an undisclosed agenda," said Virginia Dare, a member of the town's Open Space Committee.
Joshua Bloom, a software professional who lives in the Woodside Glens neighborhood, said he liked the idea of Webcasting, but considered it a low priority for the town.