The 'face' behind court's Facebook Live

Sahara Peterson smiles as she bends to the task at hand, her fingers deftly tightening this and adjusting that before she settles the iPhone atop the tripod.

"My mom taught me how to do it because she already saw that it would probably be me going with Dad to do this," said 12-year-old Sahara, a seventh grader this year and the daughter of Phillip and Karen Peterson of Pembroke.

The young girl's father is a magistrate with Christian Fiscal Court, which earlier this year began livestreaming its twice-monthly meetings on Facebook, and it is the younger Peterson who operates the camera.

"Every time he did it he messed it up," Sahara said, recalling the time her father's livestream was posted on the wrong page and the time the video was sideways.

Phillip Peterson said he really didn't know how to do Facebook Live, and his daughter, who is homeschooled, offered to come with him and do the video.

It takes only five minutes or so of her time to set it up before each fiscal court meeting, and Sahara enjoys getting to see government in action firsthand.

"They're always talking about something different," said Sahara of the magistrates' discussions about roads and budgets and the like.

The talks are interesting to Sahara, who recalls Christian County Attorney John Soyars reading the budget during a recent meeting as well as the first reading for an amended ordinance that approved liquor by-the-drink sales at local distilleries.

She also pointed to the POW/MIA flag given to the court by Hopkinsville resident Wayne Parthun, who visited a meeting to make the presentation.

Sahara got to speak personally with Parthun before he spoke to magistrates, and so she knew ahead of time about the flag he was donating to the court.

"Every time I look at it, I think of the families that have their family members missing or the family members who sacrificed all they had to protect this country and what it stands for," said Sahara, whose grandfather was a military man.

Charles Hand served in the U.S. Navy from 1956 to 1960, her father said.

The young girl said she's probably attended a dozen or so meetings since fiscal court first began livestreaming its sessions earlier this year, and she said she's enjoyed learning about the county and local government and how it works.

She's met the magistrates and Christian County Judge-Executive Steve Tribble.

"I enjoy being here and being able to do it," Sahara noted. "I just like to know what's going on, and I like to know what's happening in our community."

She said she plans to continue at the camera's helm as long as she has the time.

Each court meeting Sahara sets her tripod up near a support column in the center of the room at a spot she said allows a good vantage point for the public watching online to see magistrates as well as visitors and officials speaking at the lectern.

She uses the camera on her father's phone, placing it on the tripod and relying on a supercharger to ensure the recording continues throughout the meeting.

On the way home, she watches the recording herself to see if the sound and quality are good and whether the public has easy access to the online video.

Sahara admitted she was nervous the first few times she manned the camera, but it became easy after that third or fourth time and is now a part of her routine.

Her father said he thinks it's awesome that his daughter took the initiative to do something that has provided a solution and given people access to fiscal court.

"I like it," he said, pointing to her age and interest in working with the court.

"People say, 'Here's the government, and there's nothing you can do about it.' But here's something small and accessible that she took an initiative to do, and it's solving a problem of access. She impresses me when she does that."

Tribble noted that Sahara is meeting a lot of the people and agencies that come before the court and getting a civics lesson she wouldn't be able to get in a civics textbook.

"(Her father) kind of volunteered her and said she would be very interested in helping us," the judge-executive said of officials' desire to be transparent with the public about what happens during court meetings and with county business.

They considered Facebook Live and thought it would be cost-effective for taxpayers and able to be accomplished for very little or no cost, Tribble said.

Sahara, with her willingness to step forward, has helped make it a possibility.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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