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County supervisors to videotape meetings

Correction: A story published Wednesday should have stated that Shenandoah County will be paying a fee of $1,200 a year to post the video recordings of the Board of Supervisors meetings on the Internet.

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County can add video recordings of its Board of Supervisors meetings beginning in August, thanks to a donation from local prominent businessman.

The board voted 4-2 at its regular meeting Tuesday to allow the county to buy cameras and other equipment needed to record video of the sessions for later viewing. The county should begin including the video in its online meeting content in August.

County Administrator Mary T. Price said after the meeting that staff members will be spending time this summer installing and testing the new equipment.

The county can expect to spend $2,200 on the two camera feeds and will pay $10 a month, or $1,200 a year, to the vendor, EarthChannel, to store the video and make the recordings available to the public.

Board Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley, amid pressure from another supervisor, disclosed the name of his main donor to help cover the project's cost. William "Bill" Holtzman, president and owner of the Mount Jackson-based Holtzman Corporation, donated a large amount of the money needed.

"I have no agenda," Holtzman said Tuesday afternoon, refuting claims that he might stand to gain by giving the money. "If people are afraid to have the board meetings video'ed, they must have something to hide."

Holtzman said he only recently decided to make the donation after reading about the vocal opposition by two board members and the questions raised about who would pay for it.

Helsley touted the addition of video as a way to help attract more viewers and an alternative way for residents who can't attend the meetings to stay apprised of the government's business.

The county already pays an annual fee of $2,790 to EarthChannel for just the audio portion of the meetings. Audio is available through the county website as an on-demand feature. When installed, the recording program equipment included the capability to add video components.

The board began its discussions earlier this year about the recording and Helsley began his search for a possible donor to help defray the costs. Holtzman voiced an interest in seeing the county add video and then offered to pay the one-time equipment and installation costs as well as the first year of service.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey continued her opposition to the plan, noting that the county would incur the ongoing cost associated with recording the video of the meetings. Video recording of the meetings is not necessary at this time, Bailey told the board.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, two residents voiced support for adding video to the online content. Edinburg resident Nancy Barnett said she also made a donation to the county to help cover the costs. Barnett told the board she made the donation on behalf of her father, Robert Loy, who has been participating in local government for more than 50 years but has lost his hearing. Video recordings are "very informative," she said.

"You don't get it on an audio; you don't get it by reading," Barnett said.

Maurertown resident Charles Plauger said he could appreciate both sides of the issue -- transparency and cost. Plauger said he also appreciated Helsley for disclosing the name of the main donor.

"It's not that we don't trust you six necessarily," Plauger said. "It's just if we don't know, it always leaves that question in our minds as to are there any kind of things that might happen later on with whomever donated it -- do they expect something in return."

Bailey reminded the board that members had the opportunity when the county installed the audio to also include the video. The county didn't pursue the video at the time because of the costs, Bailey said. She added that the county upgraded its website at a cost of nearly $20,000. Bailey warned that the county would be left on the hook to continue paying the ongoing costs and likely would need to hire an employee to oversee it.

"We're trying to hold the line on the budget," Bailey said.

District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker pointed out that other jurisdictions record video of their government meetings. Baker said he's received calls from people who support adding video because they can't attend either the day or the night meetings.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz asked Helsley if he knew the salary of an employee who would handle information technology. Helsley voiced disbelief that the county would need to hire someone to handle just the video recording. Helsley reiterated that the board can revisit the issue and stop spending the money on the video service should members decide to take that route. Whether or not the county would need to hire a new employee to handle video remains uncertain.

Bailey and Shruntz voted against the spending measure.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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