Imagine, if you will, a TiVo for local government. When City Councilmen Jack Reidy or Don Nicholson mumble or when Mayor John Engen unleashes a particularly not-bad fat joke at the weekly Council meeting, any Missoulian with Internet access could rewind and replay to her heart’s content.
That’s the vision that Franklin Marmon, 28, and Seth McClain, 29, hope to bring about with Opengov.org, their new nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing local government to Missoulians’ computers. They’re very clear that they want just the facts, no spin, and say content could include school board meetings as well as a slew of other regular meetings conducted by the city and county. The website isn’t up yet, but should be by Sept. 1.
Streaming the Monday night City Council meetings online is Marmon and McClain’s first project. As it stands now, citizens can attend meetings in person or watch them on cable TV on Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT), but www.Opengov.org would allow anyone to watch the meetings at any time, over the Internet. Marmon and McClain say a searchable system would allow anyone to look up a hot topic—West Broadway, say—and retrieve video or audio clips of Council’s every discussion on that topic.
City Councilman Bob Jaffe has been working on the idea with Marmon and McClain, and a committee discussion on potential funding was on tap for Wednesday, Aug. 2, after the Independent went to press. Jaffe says the project would cost about $5,000 a year, mainly to pay for bandwidth.
“I think it would be a terrific tool if you’re trying to find out what’s going on,” says Jaffe, who thinks Council members and city staff could benefit, too.
“My only apprehension about the thing is I sometimes wonder whether people really care that much about what we’re doing,” says Jaffe, though he cites the sizable 38 percent of recently surveyed locals who reported tuning into City Council via MCAT. “Obviously we think it’s important, but sometimes I wonder how much others do.”
Giving the idea a try would be one obvious way to find out, though it may prove harder to discern who’s tuning in online only to fast-forward through the dull bits.