SARASOTA – For any Sarasota County resident awake after midnight on Aug. 1, 1999, a new TV offering appeared in their Comcast TV lineup, Access Sarasota, a channel devoted exclusively to the county government.
A recent 43-second clip available for viewing on the county’s YouTube channel celebrated the station’s 20th birthday with highlights of the channel’s accomplishments.
At that time 20 years ago, officials looked upon the station as a localized version of C-Span with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the County Commission meetings being the meat and potatoes of coverage with a few other offerings interspersed, such as public service announcements and a bulletin board.
The vision as laid out in the 1999 story was to “create dialogue that leads to citizen understanding and participation in the work of local government,” quoting then Public Communications General Manager Jay Davis.
The idea for the channel drew overwhelming support in the 1998 citizens survey conducted by the county, Jeff Aaron, the county’s public information officer said at the time. But he, and other officials with the county’s communication department had bigger plans for Access Sarasota.
Today, residents have a variety of options to view content created by the station either live or at a time of their own choosing.
“We want to bring these government meetings closer to people, so they don’t actually have to be in chambers to see them,” said Donn Patchen, director of Public Communications.
Seth Marcantel, Access supervisor, said the residents of the county have several ways to view the channel. On cable, Comcast channel 19 or Frontier channel 32 carry the station. But then, through scgov.net, citizens can watch government meetings through Access Sarasota Live, meetings on demand, or the county’s YouTube channel.
But both he and Patchen emphasize that Access is now more than live TV. It also provides the county the ability to share video content across an array of social media channels as well, making the county more transparent.
As an example, Marcantel cited the county’s recent water quality summit in June, which allowed an additional 450 people, according to the county’s metrics, to participate in the meeting, besides the estimated 600-700 people in attendance.
These social media channels all allow the county to be “topic specific” according to Marcantel so people can “scroll right to what they’re looking for.”
But Access offers more than just county news.
Residents of North Port and Venice, the city of Sarasota and town of Longboat Key can catch meetings of their local commissions on Access as well.
The county hospital board and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization share their meeting videos with the channel, which also airs the local legislative delegation, and the Swiftmud and Peace River board of directors’ meetings when they meet in commission chambers.
Besides these meetings, Access also airs meetings of the elected Charter Review Board, along with several advisory boards such as the Planning Commission and Traffic Advisory Council.
Referencing the huge amount of programming in 2018, Patchen noted, the station offered 86 live meetings amounting to 250 hours of programming.
“It’s all about how we can get more information to the public. That’s our goal,” Patchen said.