Today the Capital published my critique as an online letter to the editor.
Regarding “Streaming public meetings important for involvement” (The Capital, June 15), shame on the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County for our elected leaders’ highly politicized policies regarding TV coverage of public meetings, including use of the dedicated public, education, and government (“PEG”) TV funds (e.g., check the PEG fee on your monthly cable bill) as an IT slush fund for purposes other than they were originally intended.
The way our county does government TV is like a banana republic where public officials control the news and act predictably while pretending to be champions of open government. The strategies for abusing government access TV have been subtle and correspondingly misunderstood.
To pick one example: communities only one-twentieth of Anne Arundel’s size and with far smaller PEG budgets have not only been televising planning commission meetings for decades but doing so far more efficiently and effectively than we do our school board and county council meetings.
This includes not only webcasting meetings live but indexed to agendas for easy public searchability, integration with public meeting documents, long-term rather than politicized online accessibility, and efficient recording with robotic cameras controlled remotely.
And ponder this: why wasn’t there a live webcast of the County Council’s June 14 discussion and vote to raise taxes — the County Council’s most politically sensitive decision of FY2019?
Until Anne Arundel’s highly politicized governance structure for administering PEG funds is changed, I see little realistic opportunity for better PEG funds management.
The same day it ran the following print editorial, Our Say: Public meetings should be public, and today that means video:
In March 1981, the old television show “Taxi” predicted the future of government.
In “Zen and the art of cab driving,” the character Jim Ignatowski overcomes his drug burnout behavior to be the best cab driver he can be. He breaks company trip sheet records, amassing enough wealth to achieve his goal — enough televisions to create a wall of electronic information.
As his incredulous and worried friends prepare to leave his apartment after questioning his decision, he flips on his creation and starts showing movies, sports games, comedies and live broadcasts of government meetings — including a vote on whether Delaware residents should be Delawareans or Delawarites and the Jeffers Waggoner sewage bill.
“This is going to be a dogfight!” Jim says eagerly.
Thirty-eight years later, the technology and funding exist to live-stream government meetings over sometimes obscure issues — decisions, however, that affect lives, property and the future of a community.
Jim was right, some of it is a dogfight. More than 800 people have watched a video of the Annapolis Planning Commission posted on the city’s Facebook page as it dealt with the latest contretemps over development in Eastport.
They wouldn’t typically have this opportunity — meetings for the board, which holds the power to approve applications for developments, are not usually streamed or carried on public access cable television. This is true for the council’s 27 other boards and commissions, as well.
While they mainly exist to advise the city, some of these bodies — the Planning Commission and the Board of Appeals, for instance — have the final say over important issues.
City Council meetings and work sessions, as well as committee meetings, take up most of the space on the city’s franchise fee-funded community cable station. It’s a similar situation for the Anne Arundel County Council, which only recently made its work sessions available.
The Maryland House of Delegates also announced in January that it will live stream its floor sessions on the state General Assembly’s website. The Senate will follow suit in 2021.
It is an absolute value that government bodies should act in the most transparent way possible — and today that involves video technology. So, why do Annapolis and Anne Arundel County — and Maryland — not follow the rest of the world and post what it is doing, in real time, online or on cable?
The excuses cited by a city spokesman for our story on Saturday sounded familiar and weak — there’s no funding ,and but this bon mot:
“We’d be doing nothing but boards and commission hearings all the time.”
Isn’t this the purpose of the system? And there certainly seemed to be money for a bike lane experiment last fall.
Perhaps the most ludicrous excuse, though, was offered by Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles in her successful opposition to a proposal by Alderman Rob Savidge that would have an set aside an additional $6,500 to tape meetings for the Board of Appeals and the Planning Commission.
“I’m just wondering how the other boards and commissions would feel if we’re only going to do two and if they’re left out,” she said.
The purpose of these boards and commission is good governance by people who care about the city, not ego stroking.
The answer is simple. Mayor Gavin Buckley and County Executive Steuart Pittman should commit publicly now to expanding video of boards and commissions, whether it is streamed online or carried on the cable channels paid for by fees including in cable bills.
And then they should get busy figuring out how to make it happen.
I agree with the Capital’s editorial. And I should note that the sequence of my letter and the Capital’s editorial is an improvement over the Capital’s past practice. The last time I submitted a letter on this topic–but related to the public schools’ meeting coverage–the Capital forwarded the letter to the education reporter who then wrote an article on the subject without acknowledging my research. Then the Capital didn’t run my letter, which it claimed it didn’t need to because the education reporter had already run a story based on the letter. I confirmed this time sequence with the education reporter. I complained to the Capital’s editor that this behavior was a type of plagiarism, including a violation of its implicit letter writing policies. On the other hand, plagiarism of news ideas is ubiquitous in the news media, so the term “plagiarism” with its connotation of something that is unusual may have been too strong a term.