Las Vegas captures proceedings for Web video

What happens in Las Vegas no longer may stay in Las Vegas ' at least if they happen at city council or planning commission meetings. The municipality has developed a multimedia Web site that offers live and recorded video feeds of such meetings, as well as all supporting documents used in the deliberations.

"Video streaming is available 24/7 all across the world. If someone across the world wants to see what happened in a [Las Vegas] city council meeting, they can not only read the documentation, they can watch the video," said Beverly Bridges, city clerk of Las Vegas, who helped manage the project.

Bridges outlined the city's work at the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) International Exposition and Conference, held in Boston earlier this month.

Since offering this comprehensive set of records, the clerk's office has cut the amount of paper it prints for council meetings from 71,000 pieces of paper to less than 20,000 on a yearly basis. The office's meeting agenda Web page has also jumped in average monthly users, from 30,000 to more than 150,000, Bridges said.

Whenever there is a planning commission or city council meeting, the city clerk's office records it and the video is streamed lived to the site. Within 24 hours, the video is posted for downloading.

A city clerk's office worker is present at each meeting to add tick marks to the recording, indicating when a new speaker took the podium or when the topic changes. The appropriate documents, such as the text of proposed legislation under discussion, is linked to that portion of the meeting. The person also records any votes taken and takes minutes for the meetings, which serve as the official record.

Each session then gets its own Web page. On the left side of the page is a list of the proceedings and links to the relevant documents. On the right side is a window for viewing the footage.

The video portion works when using Internet Explorer, but not the Firefox Web browser.

Bridges noted that going electronic has streamlined office activities quite a bit. Before going digital, a council meeting required a lot of preparation. A staff member had to spend about six hours preparing packets of material for the issues to be discussed on the agenda, which had to be distributed to council members. Now the documents are posted online before the meeting.

The biggest challenge has been standardizing document formats for supporting material, Bridges said. The office gets photographs, word processing documents and architectural drawings of sometime ungainly sizes, all of which must be included on the Web site. All documents are converted into the Portable Document Format.

In addition to cutting the preparation time, the city has enjoyed other savings as well. Public requests for information have dropped by 40 percent over a six-month period. The translates to less wear on the office's copying machinery, a lower paper bill and fewer work-hours devoted to fulfilling requests. Now 80 percent of requests to the city clerk's office are now handled electronically.

"People don't have to come to city hall,' Bridges said. 'They save on gasoline, and they really like the portability of being able to access this information."

Citizens and legislatures enjoy other benefits from going electronic as well. They don't have to call in or attend meetings to determine whether their business license or development planning was approved. They can check the site.

It also saves city planners money. Kris Painter, president of Sire Technologies, an information technology services company that helped the city assemble the system, noted that one development company saved between $60,000 and $80,000 a year in courier fees, because the materials could be downloaded off the Web, instead of fetched from the office itself.

The city first started work on the online agenda system about four years ago. The initial capabilities involved scanning and posting the documents. After that system was running, the office looked for an outside contractor to add additional routing and records management capabilities, and to set up a system for recording and storing digital video footage of the meetings. At the time, the meetings were recorded on VHS tape, but the city wanted to use digital footage so they could be accessed from the Web.

Overall, it took the city about six months to implement the digital video service of the system, Bridges said. The planning commission meeting videos, the latest set of meetings to be digitally recorded, began to be posted in November.

The office is planning a number of new features. Search will be added, as will an automated vote-taking feature. When a matter comes up for vote during a meeting, each participant's vote will automatically be added to the Web page. Other meetings and public events will be recorded as well. For instance, when a newly elected official takes his or her oath of office, the ceremony will be captured.

The city is also planning to go back and scan old documents so they can be placed online. The city has about 2 million old documents, dating back to 1898, Bridges estimated. All of those will eventually be online.

"So this starts building a history for the city that we haven't had before," Bridges said. "Everything has been paper-oriented. Now we'll have video display and the electronic documents."

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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