Friday, October 24th, 2014

Bob-O-Meter

Seek video streaming of meetings

"Bob McDonnell will have legislation introduced requiring all major executive branch boards and commissions to provide live streaming video on the Commonwealth's web site. Video files will be archived so that citizens can view them at their convenience."


Updates

No bill posted

Bob McDonnell noted during his 2009 gubernatorial campaign that citizens could go online to watch General Assembly debates in real time and said he wanted to bring the same transparency to the state's executive branch.

"Bob McDonnell will have legislation introduced requiring all major executive branch boards and commissions to provide live streaming video on the commonwealth's website," McDonnell's campaign wrote in a news releases that September. "Video files will be archived so that citizens can view them at their convenience."

The statement said many important decisions occur at the agency level, and Virginians "should have the opportunity to see the discussions, debates and votes made by these bodies."

Late last year, we wrote that McDonnell had not delivered on his promise to have the video-streaming bill introduced. But because, as the governor's office noted then, McDonnell still had 2013 General Assembly session to act, we rated his pledge "Stalled" and said we'd revisit it before McDonnell's term ended.

The update: McDonnell, who leaves office Jan. 11, has abandoned his pledge to seek the legislation.

Taylor Keeney, a McDonnell spokeswoman, emailed us to say there's been plenty of progress in live streaming meetings without any legislation.

"Evaluation by the governor's policy office, the technology secretariat and (the Virginia Technologies Agency) concluded that live streaming within the executive branch did not require legislation," she wrote.

The upshot is that the governor has encouraged the use of video streaming within the executive branch, has provided through VITA the technology and assistance to do so, but has left the final decisions about whether to broadcast meetings with individual boards and commissions.

We visited the websites of many major boards and commissions to get a rough idea of which ones provide video streaming, and came away with a hodgepodge of results:

.*The University of Virginia Board of Visitors video streams its meetings, but the boards at the Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William & Mary do not.

*The Board of Education video streams its meetings.

We couldn't find any record of Alcohol Beverage Control Commission and the boards of Corrections, Elections and Medicine providing video streaming.

*The Board of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Commonwealth Transportation Board provide links to audio streams of past meetings, but not video.

The varied approaches underscore that McDonnell never sought the legislation he pledged. We rate this a Promise Broken.

Sources:

McDonnell for Governor, "McDonnell and Bolling announce good government plan," Sept. 28, 2009.

E-mail from Taylor Keeney, spokeswoman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, Dec. 4, 2013.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, "Governor McDonnell announces on-line access to public transportation meetings," May 7, 2010.

PolitiFact Virginia, "Bill not introduced yet," Aug. 10, 2012.

Interview with Alan Gernhardt, staff attorney at the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, Dec. 5, 2013.

Interview with Maria Everett, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, Dec. 4, 2013.

Interview with Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, Dec. 4, 2013.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, "Executive Orders," accessed Dec. 5, 2013.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, "Executive Directives," accessed Dec. 5, 2013.

Bill not introduced yet

Bob McDonnell, during his gubernatorial campaign, vowed to use technology to give citizens a window into decision-making in state government.

"Bob McDonnell will have legislation introduced requiring all major executive branch boards and commissions to provide live streaming video on the Commonwealth's website,” McDonnell said in a Sept. 28, 2009 news release. "Video files will be archived so that citizens can view them at their convenience.”

We checked in with the governor's office about the status of this promise.

Jeff Caldwell, a McDonnell spokesman, said in an e-mail that the governor hasn't introduced the live-stream legislation but added there's still time to do so. McDonnell leaves office in January 2014.

"Work to fulfill this promise is ongoing,” Caldwell said. "The governor has four General Assembly sessions during his term. As we crafted our campaign proposals, we did so with that time frame in mind.”

Caldwell didn't indicate whether McDonnell still plans to pursue the legislation mandating that all major panels in the executive branch provide live-streaming video. McDonnell"s last full General Assembly session is next year.

Even in the absence of a bill, Caldwell said the McDonnell administration has been working to increase video coverage of meetings.

"The administration continues working to make board, commission and agency meetings more accessible to the public,” Caldwell said. "Currently, the Joint Commission on Technology, the Government Reform Commission and several agencies are reviewing options for better using video conferencing to provide additional public access to meetings and for allowing board members to participate in meetings using videoconferencing to improve efficiency.”

Caldwell said many meetings have already been provided to the public using streaming video, including some by the governor's office, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health. Caldwell was unable to provide a detailed list, saying the state has not kept a full inventory of all meetings that have been streamed online.

The commonwealth's YouTube channel has archived videos of meetings and events. Much of the material is not video files of public meetings, but rather public service announcements and safety tips on how to prepare for a hurricane or how to drive safely. A lot of the files were uploaded to the site in 2008 and 2009 -- before McDonnell entered the Governor's office in January, 2010.

The governor's YouTube channel and the governor's website both have archived footage of news conferences and events.

Caldwell also pointed to the website for McDonnell's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, which has archived videos of commission meetings that had been live streamed in 2010 and 2011.

We asked whether McDonnell plans to still pursue legislation requiring all major panels in the executive branch to live stream their meetings. Caldwell reiterated that McDonnell has four General Assembly sessions to fulfill the promise, but he did not say outright whether the governor would still pursue the bill.

"Legislation has not been sent to the governor from the General Assembly, nor has legislation been submitted by the governor at this time, regarding a requirement to hold meetings on-line,” Caldwell said. "However, administratively, the governor, VITA (Virginia Information Technologies Agency), and many agencies are furthering their efforts to provide transparency and online options for various public meetings and events to their constituents.”

So the bottom line is that McDonnell has yet to introduce a bill requiring the major panels in the executive branch to provide live streaming video of meetings. There's some archived coverage of meetings on the Virginia government's YouTube channels and websites, but not much.

We'll look back at this vow as McDonnell gets closer to the end of his term. For now, we rate this a promise that's Stalled.

Sources:

Gov. Bob McDonnell, "Government Reform,” September 28, 2009.

E-mails from Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, August 10 and August 15, 2012.

Virginia State Government"s YouTube channel, accessed August 15, 2012.

Gov. Bob McDonnell"s YouTube channel, accessed August 15, 2012.

Gov. Bob McDonnell"s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring website, accessed August 15, 2012.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, "Video stream archives,” accessed August 15, 2012.