After flunking public access test, San Antonio says it will webcast more meetings

By Charlotte-Anne Lucas for NOWCastSA, June 30, 2019

Historic Design and Review Commission meetingMonths after NOWCastSA published a report showing San Antonio is among the worst in Texas for giving the public digital access to agendas and public meetings, the city said it will start providing live video coverage of three important commissions: Zoning, Planning and Historic Design & Review, in the fall of 2019.

“The more sunlight and scrutiny we can shine on the public process the better,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a May 16 news release. 

District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, who has made public access and public participation her signature issue, applauded the move by city staff. “With this move, we’re making it easier for residents to stay informed about their city government,” she said in the news release.

“Access to information is critical for our residents to engage with their City,” City Manager Erik Walsh said in the news release.

San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the U.S., webcasts City Council meetings, but the video is difficult to find on the city website and it draws a relatively small audience compared to much smaller cities, such as Plano. 

As NOWCastSA reported in January, in San Antonio flunks public records test, compared to other Texas cities,  San Antonio ranks last among the top 10 Texas cities for not webcasting meetings of the Planning and Zoning Commissions where important issues are heard and debated well before they are voted on by the City Council. 

The NOWCastSA report also showed that the informational packets San Antonio distributes before public meetings are sketchy and opaque, and the city sometimes demands written requests to obtain meeting minutes. Smaller and less affluent cities such as Laredo, Fort Worth, El Paso and Corpus Christi do a much better job, according to a NOWCastSA survey of cities and their records.

NOWCastSA, a nonprofit news organization, is similar to a local C-Span, providing live and on-demand video of civic and cultural events across San Antonio.

In 2012, at the request of city staff and without compensation, NOWCastSA webcast city bond hearings from the room where the Planning and Zoning Commissions meet. For that webcast, NOWCastSA used city equipment including built-in wall cameras that had gone unused since the building was constructed 10 years earlier, and have, by all accounts, not been used since.

In the past 24 months, NOWCastSA has recorded or livestreamed 40 hours of video from public meetings, including some of the most contentious issues to face the Planning, Zoning and Historic Design and Review Commission. Those videos were made possible by donations from supporters.