Let’s see a higher level of official accountability

Ben Nelms's picture

I make a it habit to sit on the front row at every public meeting I attend if a seat is available. The reason for this is simple, at least for me.

It is vastly easier to see and hear, and subsequently report on, the proceedings of the meeting. For someone reporting the news, seeing can be optional; hearing is not.

Over the years I’ve attended hundreds of meetings, in rooms large and small, where many in attendance could not hear, unless you were sitting in a board member’s lap.

All this brings me to the Fayette County Commission, where I filled in for a coworker at the May 22 meeting. There has been a dramatic and very positive change in the commission chambers. Gone are the days of not being able to hear or see. The room is now outfitted with multiple large-screen monitors along both walls, above the commission table and one on the table-side of the podium. A new multi-position camera operated from the staff table provides a view on the monitors from all directions, including a front view of those at the podium. Other improvements come by way of the sound system.

There are still other improvements for staff and the media, but the overriding benefit is to the public that attends the meetings. It’s your county, so you should be able to see and hear what is going on in meetings held by people you elected, so commissioners should be commended for the upgrades. Incidentally, the commission had budgeted $40,000 for the make-over and it came about $17,000 under budget.

The city of Fayetteville upgraded its sound system a couple of years ago so that residents could hear better in a beautiful room that suffered from terrible acoustics. That, too, was a noteworthy move to benefit the public.

Something happened at the commission meeting last week that directly relates to hearing and seeing the meeting, any meeting. Commissioner Peter Pfeifer made a motion (that was eventually defeated 1-4) that the recently instituted meeting minutes summary be replaced with something akin to the former version, with minutes more exhaustive in their detail, so that people could get a clearer understanding of what transpired at the meeting.

Others on the board said the old way was not the best way, with the very best way requiring a court reporter to transcribe the proceedings.

Some form of summary minutes would still be required they said, due to the time-frame involved in transcribing a court reporter’s work.

And, of course, those of us in the peanut gallery were reminded that Fayette is 100 percent legal in the way it documents meetings.

How many times have I heard that one? Legality is one thing, enhanced accountability and transparency is another.

Well, I’m sitting there at the new media table, listening to the conversation and appreciating the upgrades that will benefit citizens. Then an old thought occurs to me: Televise the meetings!

Why not use the Comcast local access capability to televise meetings of the county commission, school board and local municipalities? That way, people could see the meetings at home if they’d like, not to mention being able to tape the proceedings or possibly view re-plays of the meetings at other times during the month. This would provide much greater access to the meetings being conducted by those we’ve elected.

I know this comes with a cost, something that would have to be addressed as funds permit. But at least it’s another piece of a the communications pie that all local governments should be willing to address.

The bottom line is that the citizens of Georgia’s highest per capita income county, not to mention the citizens of every county, deserve to be able to witness their government in action.

Yes, a potential downside of televising meetings is the grandstanding by some that might go before the camera. But that potential downside pales in comparison to the obvious advantages.

The customarily brief summary called “meeting minutes” are one thing, and an important one. Transcripts are exceedingly better but are labor-intensive and expensive.

Broadcasts add an additional feature not previously offered. Actually, an even better idea in addition to public access broadcasts, and one that many in elected office might not be willing to support, would be to have public meetings videoed and stored for viewing at any time on that government entity’s website.

Bottom line, enhanced access to the meetings of local government can only provide a higher level of government accountability.

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NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 6:59am.

If people want to see the council in action, go to the meetings, read the minutes, talk to the elected officials, talk to staff. What? The time isn't convenient for you? TOO BAD! Braves play too early on a lot of nights? Sorry!

The fact that the advocates of televised council/commission meetings don't want to acknowledge is that most citizens DO NOT CARE WHATSOEVER. The hope of the advocates is by spending taxpayer money to purchase and have broadcast equipment and staff to televise these meetings is that it will spur people who could care less to suddenly start caring. They won't. Voter turnout shows over and over and over again that most people don't care.

So, due to the fact that most could care less about ever attending or seeing a council meeting, the ones who DO care now have to see their tax money wasted so the meetings can be broadcast to those who don't want to see them in the first place? This isn't an open government issue, it's just a really bad idea. People who want to be informed will do what they have to do to be, people who are apathetic will remain so. A dog-and-pony show on the community access channel isn't going to change that. After spending the initial costs to renovate meeting rooms for audio and video and then the on-going costs of equipment and staff, it's wasted money. Use that money where there is an actual need. Televising any local meeting to a small local area should be at the bottom of the priority list.

Submitted by thenatural on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 8:22am.


We agree that there is voter apathy out there. However, many people have grown weary of the political process because they have seen and heard the political rhetoric without seeing the process in action.
And yes most have not taken the time to do so, but that does not mean the opportunity should not be created.

Why not use the power of technology to energize and inform the voters. After sitting in recent commission meetings after a long absence, I have come to one conclusion. If the people could see the commission in action (or lack of action as the case maybe)perhaps they could make more informed decisions at the voting machine.

The only reason not to televise the meetings is because the people up there are afraid of being in the unblinking eye of the camera instead of relying on the Reader's Digest version of the meeting minutes to find out what happened.

I am willing to put up with posturing and grandstanding by some for the opportunity to have a complete and unchanging public record of what transpires in the meeting. It keeps everyone "honest".

Robert W. Morgan's picture
Submitted by Robert W. Morgan on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 5:39am.

Televising the meetings would be the same as video taping the meetings and it only takes 1 gadfly with a VCR to take a commissioner's comments out of context and use it later for his or her own purposes (like when Horgan says an auto repair shop is not ok for 1 area - his and it is ok for another area - a competitor's). These guys are not media savvy and will get tripped up so often it would be painful and expensive to watch.

I'm guessing they are all smart enough to know that - at least the current crop is - not sure about Dunn.

yardman5508's picture
Submitted by yardman5508 on Tue, 05/27/2008 - 5:29pm.

for voicing support for the second plank in the local Democratic Party platform. As I am sure you remember, the local party released their platform back in November addressing issues of importance to Fayette County residents. As the party of openness in government, the local Democrats feel that televising local governments is an idea whose time is LONG overdue. It is good to see that there are others of influence who share that sentiment. Keep the faith.

Even a dead fish can go with the flow.

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