SIOUX CITY | While people aren't flocking to the weekly Woodbury County Board of Supervisors meetings, many others are keeping an eye on the proceedings via their computer or mobile devices.
In 2014, the county board began sharing video of the late Tuesday afternoon weekly meetings through YouTube on a delayed basis, a few hours after the sessions ended.
A further advancement was made in August 2016, when the meetings began being aired in real time on the online video service.
"YouTube opens a big accessibility point. Everybody knows YouTube," Woodbury County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matthew Ung said. "It is one of many transparency measures we took over the past two years and it is a vast improvement."
A Journal summary of county video views over the last 12 months shows the county's YouTube videos haven't exactly gone viral, however. Many weekly meetings are viewed by only a few dozen people. The low came with seven views for the April 11, 2016, meeting.
Ung countered that "when there is a hot button meeting," more than 100 people will watch. That's apt, and Ung was a driving force in the most viewed video of the last year, on June 21, 2016, video, with 212 views.
That was the meeting where the public comment portion was used by 10 people to request an apology for the comments or to defend Ung's stance and character for a Facebook post he made the day of the shooting at a LBGT-friendly nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Apparently, people heard about the meeting content, then went online to watch the public discussion related to Ung's post.
His June 12 post said: “Just wondering: When the world showers their ‘prayers’ over the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, are they praying to the Allah the Muslim shooter was hollering about, or are they praying to the Christian God whose preachers down the street told people not to go to that gay bar? Choose this day whom you will serve."
Three other times videos of weekly board meetings rose above 100 views in 2016 -- on Feb. 16 during the budget-setting process with 141 views, June 28 (124 views) when there was more talk about Ung's Facebook post, and Sept. 13 (113 views).
In 2017, there were 122 views of the Jan. 31 meeting, when a budget discussion involved what equipment the county might buy and wages for non-union county employees.
The county supervisors bought live streaming equipment and installation services from Kingsbury Electronics in Sioux City for $1,316, which is set in the basement of the county courthouse.
The YouTube channel
After years of dawdling behind the Sioux City Council in the airing of local government meetings, the supervisors also set up their own YouTube channel.
John Malloy heads up county technology efforts, but he didn't have a lot of involvement in the change. Malloy said County Auditor Pat Gill pushes a button to get the technology going.
Malloy said on the best days the videos air with about a seven-second delay on YouTube. On some balky days, it might be five to 10 minutes late.
"It is a good solution. Is it outstanding? No. It is a good price point," Malloy said.
Ung said he has encouraged people to watch via YouTube, but isn't sure if they have.
The trend of YouTube viewership is going up in the first two months of 2017. Many of the meetings have been about four hours in length to accommodate budget discussions, so they are broken into two videos, and at least one of those two have been viewed roughly 50 times. That compares to a lot of meetings in November and December, when the typical number of views was in the mid-20s.
Ung said the recent jump likely is from people watching to see the three new supervisors elected in November -- Rocky De Witt, Marty Pottebaum and Keith Rasdig -- and to watch the budget-setting meetings.
Gill said he doesn't mind the responsibility for operating the video equipment, which he said works well and gives a good product for people to watch.
"I have heard that some people like that it is on YouTube live," Gill said.
Most meetings not heavily attended
In spite of the new real-time airing of meetings on YouTube, the supervisors still are hoping to get people coming to actual meetings. Some days are nearly empty of county residents, others have a smattering.
At the Jan. 10 board meeting of nearly four hours, the only person present who was not a county employee or consultant was a Sioux City woman, there to speak on behalf of the county recognizing a proclamation on January being the month for awareness of slavery and human trafficking.
During that meeting, board chairman Ung said, "I'm not sure there are any citizens here who aren't (county) employees."
Two years ago, the county board voted to shift their weekly meeting start times from the traditional 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In conjunction, the venue for the meetings moved from the supervisors board room on the first floor of the courthouse to the basement.
While running as first-time board candidates in 2014, Jeremy Taylor and Ung campaigned on the need to switch from mid-morning to late-afternoon meetings to make it easier for residents with daytime jobs to attend.
A Journal analysis in May 2015, three months into the meeting time change, showed little tangible effect on participation from the public.
"I don't think it has changed that much," Gill said this week.
"You make the accessibility and it is up to the taxpayers to take advantage of it," Ung said.
One outcome of the meeting time switch is that media coverage has become more spotty. KSCJ news radio, which had been a longstanding presence at morning meetings, stopped regularly covering the meetings in 2015, in part, due to a conflict in live broadcasts from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Former supervisor Larry Clausen, who left the board in December after 34 years, continues to be a critic on the move from the morning meeting start times. Clausen used the Nov. 22, 2016, meeting proposal to purchase $7,000 oak tables for the supervisors in the basement as the launching point to contend the later meeting time didn't draw more people.
"We moved down here for the space, so that the public could come," Clausen said of the larger basement space. "The public doesn't come."
Taylor said "we have filled up all these seats" in the basement, and Clausen said that wasn't so. Taylor said it happened in February 2016, during a contentious budget meeting involving nonprofit organizations, and Clausen conceded it was full that one day.
Taylor added, "I don't grant whether it is a success on if we fill every seat or not."
Clausen asserted, "It is an experiment...It has failed."
Taylor quickly responded, "I disagree."