GenevaTaxFACTS provides solution to school board meeting access

Steve Sheehan
March 24, 2012

(Click to see list of available videos for school board meetings )

A creative solution is often driven by a sense of frustration. Take for example having access to the record of board meetings conducted by our taxing bodies. These meetings are governed in Illinois by the Open Meetings Act. One of the key provisions is

5 ILCS 120/2.01) (from Ch. 102, par. 42.01) Sec. 2.01. All meetings required by this Act to be public shall be held at specified times and places which are convenient and open to the public. No meeting required by this Act to be public shall be held on a legal holiday unless the regular meeting day falls on that holiday.

If you poll the 9,000 plus real estate taxpayers in Geneva, you will find a range of dates and times that they would deem “convenient.” If you work in the tri-cities area you might feel that the 6 pm start time for the School District 304 Finance Committee meeting is reasonably convenient. The same might be true with the 7 pm regular school board session. Then there are the perspectives of the extreme car commuters or lengthy train commuters. Their view for a convenient start time may be 8 or 9 pm or even Saturday mornings. Finding a mutually convenient time to conduct a meeting in compliance with the requirement is a challenge.

For more than two years, the recording of Geneva school board meetings has been replayed as part of the programming offered on the City of Geneva’s website via Channel 10. Various Geneva official meetings are presented on a rotating basis throughout the day. So if you can’t make the 7 pm school board meeting in person, you need to arrange your schedule to be in front of a terminal at 4 pm to catch the previous meeting. Unfortunately, this video is only presented once per day, on a mini-screen, with no ability to view previous meetings. If the time options on Channel 10 do not work for you, one needs to subscribe to Comcast and watch the re-broadcast on their public access channel. (Unfortunately, for the hundreds of homeowners living in Mill Creek, the Comcast broadcast is not an option for you.)

Clearly, many interested taxpayers in Geneva have limited access to live or re-broadcasted board meetings. Over the past 24 months this concern has been raised by several parties at board meetings and the school board has been researching alternatives. In the interim, the taxpayers of Geneva have funded a state-of-the-art broadcast studio in the high school. The studio has been used to produce some nice promotional pieces for the Geneva Academic Foundation and is used every day for in-school Viking News.  Unfortunately, no one has been motivated to leverage the technology for a real world application and perhaps involve students in the process.

Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to wait for a viable access option. As recently as the February 27th board meeting, school board member Kelly Nowak advised the attendees that the board was near a breakthrough for making video available to all taxpayers.  That solution was "at least weeks away" but wasn’t discussed at the March 12th meeting during the Board Comments section of the meeting as promised.

Rather than continuing to wait for an official solution, one Geneva resident took matters into her own hands. She requested a copy of the school board meeting held on February 27th using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and received a DVD copy of the meeting on Friday, March 9th. Within 48 hours, she had a test copy of the meeting that she had linked with the meeting agenda so viewers didn't have to view the entire meeting to find out what they needed. After requesting input from the board, she finalized the file and posted it on www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org for access by all Geneva taxpayers.

So how much did the technology solution cost Geneva taxpayers? The only cost to the taxpayers has been the DVD copying of the school district video file. The citizen donated her coding expertise and GenevaTaxFACTS has donated the interface and server space. Another great example of the taxpayer solution revolution in Geneva.  There are now three videos which can be viewed by anyone with internet access on their iphone, ipad, or computer any time, day or night at, http://www.genevataxfacts.org/School-Board-Meetings.html.  Dropdown links make it easy to listen and review topics of interest.  This also makes it easy to send a video link to a neighbor and simply indicate the times shown in the links for quick access.