Anthony Mears is a regular in Oak Bay council chambers. He’s the guy behind the phone, adding live-streaming council and committee meetings to online resources by the group Oak Bay Watch.
The group started a couple years ago in response to development concerns, primarily around large homes replacing smaller ones on lots, because of the municipal floor area bylaws. There was at the time a YouTube user with the handle Modern Democracy, uploading video from various meetings around the CRD. When those stopped, Oak Bay Watch took up the torch.
“There was a sense, certainly in South Oak Bay, that things were moving too fast, there was a perception,” said now Coun. Eric Zhelka.
Streaming meetings was one way to promote that perception of transparency.
He was a member of the group at that time, and ran on a similar platform during the November election.
Prior to election he was among those who took turns streaming the meetings which then remain online as podcasts.
Zhelka is no longer a member of the group and Mears is now the main man behind the camera while Zhelka serves the community as a councillor.
“The (municipal) website had to be redone, we now have a modern platform to build on,” Zhelka said.
In his inaugural address, Mayor Nils Jensen addressed webcasting as something the municipality would pursue this term.
“The webcasting is also a matter of public accessibility to our proceedings. It’s a lot more complicated (than recently implemented e-agendas) and potentially more costly in the long run,” said Jensen. “It’s something we will be looking at when we go to estimates in April. It’s not just a matter of hooking up the camera … it’s also a matter of storage space and organizing and maintaining the recordings, so it is complicated but it’s not rocket science.”
As chair of the CRD board he’s busied himself visiting each of the 12 other municipalities in the region.
“So far the majority of them have some form of webcasting,” Jensen said. “So it is something that I think there’s an expectation of the public that they have that kind of visual access to our proceedings. Because the technology is available, it is just a matter of time before we complete that task.
“I think over the term of this council it is something that there is consensus on this council to move towards. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”
In the meantime, Mears plans to keep attending the Monday evening meetings at municipal hall.
“If it’s recorded then obviously we would look at that,” Mears said. Oak Bay Watch will maintain its work, even after there’s no need to stream meetings, he said.
“We’ve expanded our directors and added some expertise,” said Mears. “Our philosophy is two heads are better than one and a bunch of heads are better than two.”