The timing of city council meetings became an issue in the recent Fort Payne municipal election, but the sessions may soon stream online so citizens can watch them live or view a recording at their convenience.
The council held a work session Tuesday to discuss livestreaming meetings through FPTV, Fort Payne High School’s broadcasting and multimedia production platform. Steve Black, Fort Payne’s communications and TV instructor, said his students have successfully livestreamed FPHS football games this fall so fans who do not feel comfortable attending in person can still watch. An average of about 1,800 viewers have chosen to do so.
FPTV has also livestreamed events like high school and kindergarten graduation ceremonies. When Superintendent Jim Cunningham and FPHS Principal Brian Jett used the platform in the summer to detail the back-to-school plans, about 20,000 viewers tuned in to watch, Black said.
Livestreaming council meetings is a public service but Black noted about $3,000 in overhead it would cost to pay for broadband, mileage reimbursement to transport students from the high school to City Hall, paying a bus driver and funding a substitute teacher when Black leaves school to participate.
Council meetings where voting occurs are now held at 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, plus the council holds regular work sessions to explore issues in greater depth. Everything is open to the public except when they discuss someone’s good name and character, pending litigation or possible real estate purchases in closed Executive Session – any decision reached thereafter is public record.
The city plans to donate up to $13,000 to help fund the curriculum. This would cover any expenses that might be involved in having a crew of three or four students directly livestreaming city events. Council President Walter Watson has stressed the importance of transparency and keeping the public informed about how their tax dollars are being spent.
“The kids really did a great job with an exciting presentation,” he said. “We are proud of them and glad to give them a donation. They offered to do it at cost, but the council wanted to contribute to their overall plan and offered to donate an additional $10,000 to help them along with their classes. We are looking forward to great things coming out of FPTV.”
Black described a multi-camera setup that could capture both the council members and any speakers in contrast to the single stationary camera setup used by some local media to livestream public meetings in 2020 due to COVID-19. During summers, when schools are empty, the image capture could be done remotely from anywhere the camera operator has internet access, he said.
The FPTV class put together an introductory segment containing the city logo and drone footage of local landmarks such as the DeKalb Theater, the Coal & Iron Building, the Depot Museum, Alabama Band statues, the Alabama Walking Park, the Fort Payne Police Department, Patriots Park and the road sign people see when entering the city. Black said students wrote the script with a voiceover referencing concepts of hometown life and community service; he said he gathered the images himself.
Fort Payne Mayor Brian Baine was impressed with the presentation.
“[FPTV] did a really good job of presenting what they have in mind so everybody will have a chance to livestream council meetings,” Baine said.
Watson said he hopes everyone will download the FPTV app. Information on app availability can be found at https://www.fpcsk12.com/Page/1823.
FPTV is also active on Roku by searching “FPTV” and has a podcast available on iTunes, Tune In (audio only) and Spotify. Black said FPTV is available on Android TV and Apple TV services. FPTV does not livestream on social media platforms such as Facebook at this time.
In other business, Baine said the council also discussed narrowing down its long wish-list of projects to prioritize completing soccer fields at the new sports complex, constructing a railroad overpass paired with an extension of Wallace Avenue to eliminate Joe’s Truck Stop and simplifying the city budget.