Skype helps Wright County connect to the public

CLARION – With new technology at its fingertips, one county board of supervisors decided to use the digital age to its advantage by broadcasting weekly meetings via an online video system.

The Wright County Board of Supervisors approved a Skype video connection at its Dec. 2 meeting. It will allow community members to watch supervisor meetings without leaving their home.

Wright County Auditor Betty Ellis said the idea of creating a Skype account came about after learning broadcasting on cable would not have reached everyone in the county.

“Clarion does not have a local cable network similar to what Goldfield has,” Ellis said. “Because of technology, we felt Skype would be something that people could log in and watch. We could see who was on, and it gave us a little bit of flexibility. The cost was also reasonable.”

Over the past month, the supervisors discussed the potential advantages and disadvantages of creating a Skype account. Ultimately it was decided to approve the idea.

“It’s mainly giving citizens an opportunity to be informed,” Ellis said.

It also gives people a chance to take part in meetings without having to travel.

“We have a few citizens from Oklahoma who needed to come to a public hearing,” Ellis said. “If we’d had something like this they could communicate back and forth with the board. They can talk and ask questions. We can respond, they can see us, and we can see them.”

Though broadcasting meetings has been well-received, Ellis said there have been a few technical difficulties that have come up.

“It hasn’t been fully implemented yet,” she said. “We’ve found a few snags that we’re trying to hammer out.”

She said that if too many people try logging on at once, the system won’t work.

“If one or two people want to Skype in, it should work,” Ellis said. “But if we start getting 20 people we’re going to struggle.”

Ellis added that if someone wanted to Skype into a meeting, they need to call the Wright County auditor’s office beforehand.

“We can take their information and get the info out on how to log in and what to look for,” she said.

When it does become fully implemented, Ellis said the supervisors and community will benefit from the new system. For the supervisors, it will especially be helpful when monthly meetings are held as part of a 22-county mental health group to which Wright County belongs.

“Each county would have a meeting in their county, so we had each board member driving to counties like Allamakee and Worth,” Ellis said. “It was a three-hour drive to get to a meeting that would maybe last an hour and a half.”

With Skype, that travel time is eliminated.

“We’ll be able to have the board members log in under Skype,” she said. “It’ll save the county a considerable amount of money. They can still hear and speak at the meeting if they have a concern.”