By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Attendance at Atmore City Council meetings should grow exponentially in the near future, and most of those attending won’t have to rush to city hall to do so.
City officials announced last week that city council meetings would soon be streamed, delayed at first but then live, on YouTube.
“As far as city government, just about all the towns around us are already doing this,” Mayor Jim Staff said. “We’re probably the last, except for maybe Flomaton, to do this.”
Until recently, council meetings have been poorly attended, mainly due to their 4 p.m. starting time, and the new setup will allow those who work past that hour to witness the council sessions, as well as those who are homebound and those who have to be out of town on meeting day.
The first few meetings will reportedly be recorded, then broadcast on the online site. Officials promised the meetings would eventually be streamed in real time, after “the kinks are worked out and the bugs tweaked.”
Staff, City Clerk Becca Smith and all five council members agreed that the move will allow citizens to see how city government works., even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the country and force the wider spacing of chairs in the council chambers.
“We felt like we owed it to the community,” the mayor said. “Being that we can’t have a full house, we just felt like we owed it to the public.”
Smith expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s an all-out effort at transparency,” the city clerk said. “This way, we can make sure everyone with an interest has access to council meetings.”
District 5’s Chris Harrison said the online meetings will give citizens a better understanding of the political process and how they can take part in it.
“This will give people the opportunity to see how the process works,” he said. “If they want to approach the council, they can get a sense of how to do that. It also keeps COVID exposure levels down when people can watch at home.”
District 3’s Eunice Johnson said the online availability of the meetings should cut down the number of complaints from people who have been given misinformation or second-hand information about council decisions.
“It’s going to be great,” she said. “Nobody will have the excuse of saying they do not know what’s going on in the city. That’s good, that’s what it’s all about. We’re changing the trajectory of city government.”
Shawn Lassiter, who represents District 4, agreed that a major reason for poor meeting attendance would be removed.
“People wanted a change because the meetings started at 4 (p.m.), and a lot of people couldn’t get there,” he said. “They will be able to participate better now.”
District 1’s Webb Nall, who is in his 25th year as a member of the city’s governing panel, said he hoped the use of online technology would serve its intended purpose.
“It will be interesting,” Nall said. “I don’t really see a problem with it, as long as it’s not edited. It will get more people involved in the process.”
Jerome Webster, the council’s District 2 rep, said he was confident the new meeting format would be a positive move.
“It’s going to work out good, going to be all right,” Webster said. “It will give everybody a chance to view the council if they don’t have a chance to come down, especially with the COVID like it is.”
Harrison summed things up by agreeing that the YouTube streams will bring the city into the 21st Century and put it on the same level as the surrounding cities.
“ A lot of cities are already doing it, so we might as well get on board,” he said. “It’s time to get on with the future and see how it goes.”