Counties Use Video for Transparency and Outreach

By Liz Carmack, Senior Communications Specialist

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More people than ever before are watching video online. In fact, 85% of internet users in the U.S. watched online video content monthly in 2018, according to market and consumer data company Statista.

Several Texas counties are tapping into this trend to reach their residents, whether it’s by broadcasting commissioners court meetings, posting videos about county services or sharing TAC’s Texas Counties Deliver videos through social media.

Larger counties required to post video

State law requires counties with populations of 50,000 or more to provide video of regularly scheduled commissioners court meetings. Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner said the commissioners court began posting video of its meetings in 2013. The county adds videos to the county’s YouTube channel and also makes them available on its website.

Collin County has been posting video of commissioners court meetings since 2008 to make the county’s operations more transparent, said Public Information Officer Tim Wyatt. Not only do county residents watch to stay on top of county operations, but “county staff and other elected officials also use it to keep tabs on votes for a particular issue that might affect them or that they have a hand in working on,” he said.

When the 2020 U.S. Census is complete, growing counties whose populations have reached that 50,000 threshold will be expected to follow the law, too.  

Tanner had some advice for those who aren’t already providing video. “Start recording and posting before you are mandated,” she said. “And have a
backup plan.”  

Potter County’s backup plan is to record audio of the meeting in addition to the video. If, for some reason, the video was not recorded or the recording stops before the meeting is adjourned, the county can at least post the audio.

Many of the state’s urban and suburban counties have a robust setup to capture and share their videos. For instance, Wyatt said, Collin County uses four remotely operated digital cameras, a video feed that’s linked to a laptop that can provide graphics such as PowerPoint presentations, and a digital audio feed from the commissioners court podium mics. They use Swagit to provide a live stream of the video alongside the agenda and Destiny’s eAgenda to provide archived video links from meeting agendas to help viewers keep track of specific items in the videos.

Video possible even on a tight budget 

But video isn’t off limits to smaller counties with limited funds. They can also get into the game with basic equipment and social media.

Karnes County is a good example. Two years ago, county officials bought a $50 tripod and borrowed a surplus iPhone from the sheriff’s office to broadcast video of commissioners’ court meetings via Facebook Live. The videos are shared on Facebook — where they receive hundreds of views — and are also posted to the county’s website.

In addition, County Judge Wade J. Hedtke decided that video interviews would be a good way to share information with residents about county programs available to them.

The Facebook Live analytics from the first interview-format video showed a good response from residents, which prompted the county to continue posting them. Today, the “County Services” link on the county’s home page takes residents to videos, most of which are 7 to 20 minutes long. In these, Hedtke and his assistant, Justin Meyer, interview county officials, staff and community leaders about everything from the Karnes County AgriLife Extension Service to the Karnes County Victim Services program and the problem of hazardous materials dumping in the county.  

Hedtke said using Facebook Live to make county government more transparent is part of adapting to changing times.

“Technology is advancing more and more each day, and we’re trying to use that to help educate our citizens so they know what’s going on in the county,” he added.

Share Texas Counties Deliver videos

With the click of a mouse, counties and county officials are also educating the public by sharing TAC’s short, entertaining videos on their social media feeds. All the Texas Counties Deliver videos, which explain county government, are available on TAC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/texascounties

These engaging videos explain the duties of county officials, dissect a property tax bill, take viewers through the court system, show how counties provide transportation infrastructure, and provide much more information. Seventeen videos, produced by Chet Garner of PBS television’s “The Day Tripper,” are available so far, with more to come. Officials can also download the videos to play in the public areas of their county offices and during presentations at www.county.org/tcdvideos.