A history of Kerr County’s flirtation with video technology

As we continue to circulate our online petition asking the Kerr County Commissioners Court to reconsider implementing video technology to better engage and inform their constituents, we pause to reflect on the history of the county’s flirtations with this technology and to recount some of the discussions that have transpired in recent years.

2017 Trial Run

Commissioners Court Minutes from July 10, 2017

On this date, Information Technology Director John Trollinger made a presentation to the Commissioners Court explaining his department’s efforts to test a video recording system. Introducing this agenda item, County Judge Tom Pollard (who retired at the end of his term in 2019) pointed out that the subject of video recordings had been discussed on and off for approximately two years, and Mr. Trollinger pointed out that this was the first time that an actual test scenario had been setup.

COMMISSIONER BELEW: I vote for transparency.

COMMISSIONER MOSER: I’m all for transparency.

COMMISSIONER LETZ: …over all I mean I’m not against doing it, but I’d like to know more about it…

COMMISSIONER REEVES: …I’m more than happy with transparency. I don’t think we got anything to hide here.

JUDGE POLLARD: Well, I find that the subject matter’s a little controversial. I’ve had some diverse opinions on it, so it’s kind of up to the Commissioners’ Court…

–Quotes from Commissioners at the beginning of the discussion on July 10, 2017

As you can see from the quotes above, the Commissioners were open to the idea and felt that transparency, overall, is a very good thing. Mr. Trollinger proposed that the county continue to test the simplistic system that they’d setup and to track the costs and labor involved. He pointed out that several nearby counties he’d spoken with had started small, but were so happy with the results that they invested in larger, more robust systems.

Mr. Trollinger put a finer point on it, stating, “It’s a public meeting, we’re all here to tell the public what we’re doing, and I think it’s a great avenue to let them know, and if we have a small mistake — if we have a small mistake and I say the wrong thing to Commissioners Court while I’m standing next to the camera, well it’s a public meeting, and the public needs to know.”

Two members of the Kerrville City Council were present at this meeting, and the Commissioners asked them their opinions. Judge Pollard asked Councilmember Place 1 Vincent Voelkel if there was any downside to the city’s broadcasting of public meetings. Mr. Voelkel responded, “Not that I know of. Pretty successful.” Judge Pollard asked Place 2 City Councilmember George Baroody the same question, and Baroody responded, “The only downside — and you can argue whether it’s a downside or not, I think people get lazy and they attend the meetings less because they can watch it at home. And I don’t know if that matters to anybody, but that is one thing.” To which Commissioner Moser stated, “That’s not lazy, that’s efficient.”

Commissioners voted to continue testing the video system for one month and then they’d revisit the matter.

Newspaper article on this meeting from the Hill Country Community Journal: http://www.hccommunityjournal.com/article_30c7910c-6670-11e7-9efb-139b5d553719.html

Revisited in late 2018

Unfortunately the Commissioners did not revisit the matter in one month, or two, or six. The next time the Court discussed video recordings wasn’t until September 10, 2018 — a year and three months later.

Commissioners Court Minutes from September 10, 2018

Commissioner Letz added this topic to the agenda and acknowledged in his opening remarks that nothing was ever decided after that first conversation in July 2017. The court discussed various options for recording systems and features, and discussed the features that the City of Kerrville uses for their broadcasts. Mr. Baroody spoke at this meeting to discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of the system in use at the City. (It bears noting here that the City has since upgraded their system, providing a more searchable index and verbatim transcriptions built into the video itself — like closed captioning.)

The court directed the County Attorney to look into the various legal ramifications of recording the meetings in-house, and also to ascertain the legal precedents for how to handle an outside group or news agency that requests to film the meetings, as is their legal right to do. Unfortunately no official action was taken at this meeting.

No further discussion

The matter has not been discussed again since September 2018, according to our exhaustive search of the available minutes on the County’s website.

Next Steps

Our online petition continues to circulate and we encourage readers to sign this petition to encourage the Commissioners Court to finally act on this topic after nearly five years of discussion.

Kerrville United founder Aaron Yates plans to present this petition to the Commissioners Court in late November, along with a summary of the benefits of such a system. In addition, he will air concerns about the extremely slow posting of verbatim transcripts that have prompted this new push for video broadcasts.