Council Debates Options for Video Recordings of Meetings
Should East Lansing stay the course in terms of the outside company it has been employing to record audio and video of City Council and Planning Commission meetings? The service costs around $150,000 per year, and the current contract expires this April.
At Council’s February 19 discussion-only meeting, members discussed the possible renewal of the City’s contract with Advanced Video Professionals, the local company that has been recording and broadcasting East Lansing’s Council and Planning Commission meetings.
The video recordings are professionally produced and loaded into a web-based portal that allows residents to view discussions and deliberations of interest to them by easily clicking on specific agenda items. The video and sound quality is high, making it relatively easy to follow live and archived debates and decisions at Council and Planning Commission.
According to City Manager George Lahanas, the service provided by Advanced Video Professionals is “a big part of our transparency and being able to show the important work the Council is doing for the community.”
During discussion of the draft new contract, Lahanas explained it included something Council Members have been pushing for: to begin video recording the discussion-only meetings for City Council. Currently, East Lansing only pays to have audio recorded from those non-voting meetings. The new contract would add video recording of twelve discussion-only meetings per year.
As part of the City’s plans to reduce overall costs, City officials requested that Advance Video Professionals lower the price they are currently charging. Currently, the City is paying $155,700 per year for the services. The vendor proposed a new starting price of $147,912 per year, roughly a 5% reduction in costs.
The proposed cost of the contract is set to increase one percent every year. One sticking point for some Council Members is an early termination fee in years four and five. In its proposal, Advance Video Professionals is requesting a $75,000 cancelation fee if the contract is canceled in year four and a $50,000 fee for cancellation for year five.
According to Lahanas, the company initially proposed higher termination fees, but after Council Members raised concerns, those numbers came down.
During the discussion at Council, David L. Leys, the owner of Advanced Video Professionals, came to the podium to explain that the reason for the termination fees was the upfront equipment investment that he was going to have to make. Currently, the City does not own any of the equipment that is used to record and broadcast meetings.
Council Member Aaron Stephens floated the idea of returning to an in-house team to record City meetings. He suggested that instead of outsourcing the work, it might be cheaper for the City to handle all of the services internally and to purchase equipment. He also added that filming discussion-only meetings would be “a much-needed improvement.”
Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann explained that the City had tried before to manage in-house all the audio and video recording. He said that it was too costly to buy and maintain the equipment, so the City decided to outsource the work.
Altmann told his colleagues and staff, “I don't want the City to own the equipment, because I don't want the City to be responsible for it.”
Mayor Mark Meadows added, “I don't think we can afford to own our own equipment. I think this is the right way to go from my standpoint.”
Council Member Shanna Draheim raised concerns about the risk of locking the City into a lengthy contract when technology is evolving quickly.
She also raised concerns about the cost of the contract, saying, “while I’m very much in favor of transparency, I would rather spend another $50,000 or $60,000 on a park, on a couple of neighborhood parks each year, instead of doing this. I think community members would appreciate [spending on parks], more than the number of people who want the most highly-produced video content. I’m not ready to commit ourselves to five years, $150,000 [per year].”
Lahanas told Council, “This is one of the big money-saving things we did over the last two decades. We used to run it internally and the basement was filled with interns and studios and it was a half a million-dollar operation every year, and we got that down to $150,000.”
He added that, if the income tax proposal had not passed, this expenditure might have been cut from the budget.
Speaking for his team, Leys explained that, “for those of you who don’t know, I worked for the City for seven years before the City privatized [audiovisual recording services] and . . . the City is my number one commitment. I helped build the station, it's my top priority. No one cares about it more than I do.”
Leys told Council that the people he employs for East Lansing recordings are all industry professionals who work multiple jobs in the Lansing area.
Given that the contract is expiring, it seems likely Council will be making a decision on the matter soon.
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