Reuben Larsen and Shaun Gates are documenting local government in action.
Throughout the month, they attend various municipal meetings, videotape them and then post the videos on YouTube.
They call it Transparency Projects.
“It is our contribution to the community,” Larsen said. “We were somewhat politically fluent before and had political views but didn’t necessarily know the process.”
For the couple, who lives in the town of Weyauwega, their project is the result of an open records request.
Last spring, they attended an informational meeting about the fitness center project the Weyauwega-Fremont Booster Club had proposed to the W-F School Board.
The informational meeting was hosted by the booster club, and Gates asked questions related to the operational costs, proposed membership fees and security measures planned for the fitness center.
The booster club did not have the answers to her questions.
Larsen and Gates had already started to read about the project in the newspaper and had received an informational brochure from the booster club about the proposed project.
“We found it interesting,” Gates said, “that we received the informational brochure from the booster club to the business (J.R. Larsen Company) but not to our home.”
After attending the informational meeting, they started going to school board meetings and have not missed one since.
“We requested any records having to do with the fitness center,” Gates said.
The couple felt the project was being pushed.
Through their open records request, they received the paper trail related to the project proposal but not copies of the videos of the school board meetings.
While the meetings are videotaped, they are not posted on the district’s website.
The couple requested copies of the videos but found it difficult to hear and understand what was being said.
In addition, there is a cost associated with requesting copies of the videos.
“I think it was after that that we thought why not record them ourselves. We will then have them and not have to pay for it,” Gates said.
Larsen said the minutes of the meetings, which are posted on the district’s website, and newspaper articles will always be a summary of what happens at a meeting.
“Everything can play a role,” he said.
Larsen sees minutes of meetings and articles as planting “seeds.”
Those who have a further interest but were unable to attend a meeting may watch a video to see it all, he said.
“We felt if we wanted people to see and hear what’s going on around us, YouTube would be the best outlet,” Gates said.
There is no hosting expense there.
The couple bought a camcorder and tripod, and the first meeting they videotaped was the school board’s Sept. 9 meeting.
After that taping, they bought an external microphone and continue to experiment with where it is best to place the camera to pick up the audio better.
By the end of that month, they bought a second camcorder, tripod and external microphone.
They did so when meetings of the school board and Weyauwega Common Council fell on the same night.
With the fitness center project on the school board agenda and expansion of Weyauwega’s city hall being discussed, the couple believed both meetings needed to be videotaped.
As a result, they have spent about $1,000 on equipment to tape the meetings.
Since decisions of the school board affect more area residents, those were the first meetings they videotaped.
The couple is also taping meetings of the Weyauwega Library Board, Weyauwega Common Council, Town of Fremont and Town of Dayton.
They plan to tape meetings of the Fremont Village Board and Town of Weyauwega, too.
The videos of meetings are usually on YouTube within a day or two of when the meetings were held, Gates said.
The decision to add Dayton to their schedule began as another way to test their equipment.
Larsen said part of the reason to go there was related to online comments they had previously read related to Chris Klein, the chairman of that town.
“Now, I’ve been asked to record the Little Hope Lake District meetings,” Gates said.
She said they are not making any money doing this and are not at meetings to create a ruckus.
They looked at the State Statutes before starting their project and try to set their cameras up early.
“There’s been no lashback or anyone telling me at a meeting, ‘You can’t do this,’” she said.
In fact, people tell the couple when they notice the video of a recent school board meeting is on YouTube.
And, when Gates was setting up their camera at the last Dayton meeting, she heard someone say, “Oh, she’s the one who puts them on YouTube.”
She said, “If we get a hold of an agenda, we will try to put it in the description item part of the video.”
Find their videos of public meetings on YouTube by typing transparencyprojects when doing the search.
Their videos are not edited, and Larsen said part of their inspiration to tape meetings was after hearing “check the tape” at school board meetings when there were questions about what had been previously discussed.
“It’s about what affects us,” Larsen said. “It’s something they (municipalities) should be doing, especially the school, the city. They already have all the resources.”