Marble Falls City Councilor Bryan Walker, Place 4. File and courtesy photos
Livestreaming public meetings for some local governments has become routine, continuing even after pandemic shutdowns ended. The Marble Falls City Council, however, unplugged the technology after returning to in-person proceedings. To see that council in action, you have to attend its meetings.
Councilor Bryan Walker would like to change that. Transparency in government was one of the reasons he ran for the Place 4 seat in May 2021, and livestreaming meetings would help accomplish that, he said.
“I think it’s important for people to know for themselves what’s going on within their city,” he said.
Livestreaming is the act of broadcasting meetings and other events via streaming services such as Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube Live. Options to do so are provided on most social media platforms.
In the state of Texas, governing bodies such as city councils, county commissioners courts, and local school boards within the state must adhere to the Texas Open Meetings Act when conducting meetings and other business. The act establishes rules of conduct to ensure a certain level of transparency so members of the public can hold elected officials and appointees accountable.
To adhere to the act, the aforementioned governing entities must host public in-person meetings. Additionally, agendas must be posted in a place accessible to the public at least 72 hours prior to each scheduled meeting.
In March 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott temporarily suspended the in-person requirement to give government officials the ability to continue business virtually during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This exception lasted until September 2021.
The Marble Falls City Council joined other local government entities in conducting meetings via Zoom. Council members and those wanting to watch or participate were able to attend virtually.
When the in-person meeting exemption expired, several governing bodies in the Highland Lakes — Meadowlakes and Granite Shoals city councils and the Marble Falls Independent School District Board of Trustees — chose to continue streaming meetings for the public in addition to hosting them in person. They are now holding hybrid board meetings via Zoom, Facebook Live, or YouTube Live.
“Currently, we do not have the resources to stream council meetings,” City Secretary Christina McDonald wrote in an emailed response to a question from DailyTrib.com.
City Council meetings are held at 6 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of each month inside Council Chambers at City Hall, 800 Third St. Residents interested in attending the meetings must do so in person.
While livestreaming is not a legal requirement, providing residents with the opportunity to tune in to meetings from home could make it easier for some to actively participate in local government, Walker said. He especially believes it would help residents with disabilities, the elderly, and parents and guardians who care for their children after school.
“(Livestreaming) allows people who may not have the means or desire to drive to City Hall to participate (in local government),” he said. “Plus, we’re the economic hub of the area, and so, because of that, it’s important that people see what’s going on here,” he continued.
Walker previously brought up the issue of continuing to livestream during an April 5 council meeting. He said some residents had reached out to him asking about the possibility of streaming meetings and asked that it be added to a future meeting agenda for discussion by the entire council.
As of April 22, however, there was “no workshop planned on this topic,” McDonald confirmed.