Before Kaitlin Struckmann started making them, there were no video records of local Rappahannock County government meetings.
After seeing the need, Struckmann started the Rappahannock Record, a public-service effort to record videos of public meetings for those who are unable to attend the meetings. Struckmann, 34, records all of the videos herself, all on a volunteer basis.
After a discussion of government transparency made its way through RappNet, a local email group list that connects community members with opinions and discussions, Struckmann took on the task of recording the meetings.
“I thought it was a simple thing to step up and do,” she said.
Then, Struckmann looked to the community to help fund her mission. In the first month, $1,300 was donated to her gofundme.com campaign. With those funds, Struckmann has recorded 10 local meetings over the past two months. She hopes to raise $2,200 more, according to her gofundme page.
Donations are used toward gas money, vehicle maintenance, equipment upgrades and other costs associated with Struckmann’s project, she said. She commutes from her Flint Hill home to record each government meeting.
Meetings she’s recorded include Rappahannock County School Board and Board of Supervisors meetings, a planning commission meeting and a board of zoning appeals meeting.
So far, Struckmann says she has spent about 63 hours recording and editing videos and traveling 152 miles in the first month of the Rappahannock Record’s production. Struckmann’s first video has about 90 views, with more recent uploads reaching 30 to 90 views on her Youtube channel.
“I’ve gobbled up all of the meetings I can find out about,” Struckmann said. “It’s just a matter of me learning which meetings are being held but anytime I hear of one I try to go to it.”
Before coming to Rappahannock, Struckman was a deputy clerk at the Warren County Circuit Court. For five years, she saw how essential keeping correct records are for a courtroom.
“They don’t allow cameras in the courtroom usually, so I always felt like there was a little part of the record missing,” Struckmann said. “It’s different now, it’s the same concept but I’m actually able to show the whole truth of [meetings].”
Struckmann added that sometimes “nuances” are left out of written records such as body language and the tone in some individual’s voices.
“That’s the part that’s missing if you’re not there and you can’t watch a video,” she said.
Some individuals in the county would miss local school board meetings because they needed to stay home and watch their kids, said J. Wesley Mills, the board’s Jackson district member and chair.
“Initially, someone wanted the school to take videos . . . we had to make sure we were smart about it,” he said.
Members of the board thought about recording audio at the meetings to verify the written minutes taken with the clerk, Mills said, but that option wouldn’t serve the community.
“I wanted to do it economically, and [Kaitlin] does that,” Mills said.
Chris Parrish of Stonewall-Hawthorne district, vice chairman of the supervisors, sees multiple benefits to the Rappahannock Record as well.
“Not everything is covered in the newspaper,” Parrish said. “If someone wants to sit two or three hours to see what happened at least they have the option to do that.”
Sometimes, community members attend the supervisors’ meetings to gain approval for a permit, Parrish said. On the chance that it’s denied, they can go back, review what happened and reapply later in the year, he added.
Following the added support from RappNet, private emails and Facebook, Stuckmann plans to continue the service for Rappahannock.
“As long as the county needs it done, sure, I’d love to stay and do this,” Struckmann said.
Reporter Julia Fair’s internship is underwritten by Foothills Forum.