City Council online meetings software working just fine?

A few weeks ago I requested the contract the city has with SIRE, (Document: SIRE Agreement) the software company providing the council meeting services. The system has been down several times over the past months and sometimes takes awhile to get the meetings up after they have been recorded. I have questioned the clerk’s office about this on several occassions. In fact, the problems started when Owen was still the city clerk.

When I received the contract from current city clerk, Lorie Hogstad, she was quick to point out that the contract SIRE has with the city is with the ‘Central Services’ department. So I sent them an email asking about the problems, here is their reply;

Mr. Ehrisman,

The Sire recording application is used for Regular and Informational City Council meetings, Fiscal Committee meetings, Public Services Committee meetings, Land Use Committee meetings, Audit Committee meetings, Joint City/Minnehaha County meetings held in the Council Chambers, Planning Commission meetings, as well as some additional special meetings held in the Council Chambers.

The primary purpose of the Sire system is to provide live web streaming capabilities, and to be a central repository for documents and files. For the Clerks office that includes agendas, meeting minutes, and video files. At the start of each meeting, City Clerk staff initiates the Sire application which starts the video encoding process on the Sire server.  The live web streaming then becomes available on the City’s website. At the conclusion of each meeting, City Clerk staff signals the Sire application to stop the video recording which also terminates the live web streaming session.

Notice the finger pointing goes back to the city clerk’s office;

City Clerk staff is responsible for uploading the video which allows it to post to the City’s website.

This is true, they are responsible for this, but they are also not, IT professionals;

If there is a technical issue with the video file, we utilize a secondary file which is recorded by CityLink staff as the meeting is being broadcast on our cable TV channel. This is a backup file, but can also be used to upload to the website if need be. This file must be converted and digitally encoded into the Sire video system, and then it can be uploaded to the website. If this method is used, it can add one day to the process.

I have asked several IT people about how long it takes to convert this video. At the most, I have been told it shouldn’t take any longer then an hour, tops, certainly not 20-40 hours.

Overall, we have been very pleased with the Sire product, and intend to continue our relationship with this vendor for the foreseeable future.

Thank you, Jon Klemme – IT Manager – City of Sioux Falls

While the city has been very pleased with the product, I have not been. I am paying for this service, and it should work, 99.9% of the time.

The big question still remains. Is it a glitch in the software that is causing these problems? And if so why isn’t SIRE fixing them? We can certainly terminate their contract at any time if they fail to hold up there part of the maintenance agreement;

Or are these videos being purposely held back as a form of censorship? And if so, who is doing the censoring? The Clerk’s office or the IT department? And by whose directive? I would like to think that this is not the case, and if it isn’t, why hasn’t either the IT department or the clerk’s office asked SIRE to fix the problems? I’m hoping by bringing this up, one more time, that finally someone will get the system to work, or at least STOP THE CENSORSHIP whether it is intentional or not.

12 comments ↓

#1 Craig on 12.04.12 at 3:34 pm

Why don’t you start creating a log of when the meeting was held, and when the video was made available on the website. At least then we could see if there is a pattern and/or the frequency of delays.

The fact the city posts the videos at all is pretty impressive. If they get them posted within a week of the meeting I guess I don’t have a problem with it – it is a vast improvement for how things used to be.

Also, I don’t think this is purposeful censorship considering they broadcast the meetings on CityLink and eventually it seems the meetings get posted online. So what purpose would it serve to delay? Thus it is probably unintentional and as with any city or government service there are a lot of players and moving pieces which result in the process being much more convoluted than it should be.

#2 l3wis on 12.04.12 at 3:41 pm

Craig – I’ll play along, let’s say it is unintentional. But why does it keep happening? And why do controversial or important meetings go missing for days, sometimes up to a week. We paid $95,000 a year for the service from Sire and over $1000 a month for 5 years for maintenance. When you pay your electric and water bill, you expect the services to work. Right? Is it just blatant incompetence? I could go along with that. But I want to see proof that the city hasn’t been asking SIRE to help fix the glitches.

#3 Craig on 12.04.12 at 3:51 pm

Like I said… create a log. It is all about documentation. Might be interesting to make notes about what meetings seem to be delayed because if only the controversial meetings take a week to get posted then it would seem to hurt credibility of city staff who claim there isn’t an issue.

If you can find trends then great – maybe that company on Minnesota Ave that sells Parakeet cage liners will eventually run a story on it too.

#4 Detroit Lewis on 12.04.12 at 4:04 pm

Oh the irony. Go see if you can view the info right now online. Not working.

#5 Testor15 on 12.05.12 at 7:13 am

SIRI is supposed to keep us informed real-time with data and video. If we do not know it is happening than how do we know it is happening?

#6 TP on 12.05.12 at 8:25 am

The problem is with the I.T. department. They aren’t held accountable. If a private company performed as poorly, the city wouldn’t do business with them. So why is no one at the city saying anything? Oh, that’s right, the central services director that oversees I.T. is one of Huether’s cronies and the other directors are too scared to open their mouths and complain for fear of losing their job.

The city council should do an employee survey on the I.T. department. I think they would be surprised at how bad the problems really are.

#7 Detroit Lewis on 12.05.12 at 9:12 am

TP – That is the feeling I have been getting from the Clerk’s office, without them flat out saying that.

#8 Pathloss on 12.05.12 at 9:16 am

Hey, they responded to you. With present city government, that’s a little something and a small start.

#9 GregN on 12.05.12 at 10:01 am

Conspicuously absent from the response you showed us was any acknowledgement that there is a problem. Was there any acknowledgement that there is a problem from anyone? Or is the official position that things work fine? If there are hours or days of delays, its not acceptable. That’s not enterprise class availability. The whole point of a system like this is to give citizens immediate and easy access to information so they can be better informed and involved when it matters. Delayed information isn’t acceptable. As far as why its happening, I’ll fall back on Occam’s Razor again and assume its flaky/buggy software and/or bad operators unless there was a smoking gun showing otherwise. But regardless, it shouldn’t be that hard. And yes, hours or days to convert a video file and upload it is absurd (and why should you almost ever have to do it if the software worked reliably)?

As an aside if you want to talk about censorship, watch the informational meetings and regular council meetings weekly. I’ve been noticing a distinct and frankly disturbing pattern forming of the moderators of each meeting cutting off, rushing, and bullying a certain councilor and sometimes citizen speakers. Watch and see how those the moderators agree with are allowed to exceed arbitrary time limits routinely, but those who differ are rushed and cut off using imaginary ‘rules’. This is what should really disturb people. I guess I wasn’t aware that meetings had time limits. What’s the rush? Why can’t we even listen to differing opinions?

#10 Detroit Lewis on 12.05.12 at 10:48 am

Erpenbach’s power (or lack there of) has gone straight to her head. She has equal power as every single councilor on the commission. No less, no more. As council ‘leadership’ her only real job is to go to a couple of more meetings and run the meeting. She has NO authority over other councilors. And the sooner she figures that out, the more productive they can be. Costello NEVER ran the meetings like that.

Greg – No, there has never been acknowledgement of problems. They have always had some excuse, or they ignore me.

#11 Detroit Lewis on 12.05.12 at 3:02 pm

For instance right now, Wed, 5th, 3 PM you cannot view the council meeting. Why?! I viewed it this morning, but now it has disappeared. Why?!

This makes no sense at all.

#12 Detroit Lewis on 12.05.12 at 3:02 pm

http://www.siouxfalls.org/council/view-meetings.aspx

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