Kent Co. Considers Inexpensive System to Broadcast Video of Meetings on Net While Such Practices Creates Challenges Locally

The Kent County Commissioners are considering live webcasting of commissioners’ meetings, the Kent County News reported this week.  Taking a simple approach of pointing a webcam at the table where the elected officials sit and using the existing wired microphones, the neighboring county believes this can be done inexpensively.  They’ve instructed the Director of Information Technology to do it “as cheaply as possible.”

In Cecil County, Commissioner Diana Broomell has long served as an advocate for using streaming methods to increase public awareness and participation in public proceeding.  As a candidate, she talked about the potential of the web for increasing transparency and participation.  But the previous board came to the conclusion that start-up costs would approach $700,000 while annual upkeep would be between $200,000 and $300,000.  When the county released those figures in October, 2010, about a month before the election, the candidate pointed out the cost-effectiveness and simplicity of a system similar to the one Kent is considering.

For the Town of Elkton the challenge was different.  After months of arguing over whether it should stream videos of meetings on the Net, town commissioners finally agreed to move ahead in order to increase public awareness as it was argued at that time.  But following the loss of a lawsuit where the video was going to be used as evidence, Mayor Fisona suddenly reversed the practice.  Not only did the mayor stop putting videos of workshops on the Internet, but he also stopped a long-standing practice of taping those meetings.   This was a major step backwards as far as transparency and openness in government was concerned.

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8 responses to “Kent Co. Considers Inexpensive System to Broadcast Video of Meetings on Net While Such Practices Creates Challenges Locally

  1. So why the resistance to such a simple idea, something othat’s easily been accepted by managing bodies elsewhere without any significant cost or problems. Kent County appears to be trying to do it really cheaply, but it works. As for here, you could have a good system without too much cost, certainly not nearly a million dollars. What’s up with Elkton? The municipality started webcasting and then stopped. Something isn’t right with that. I’m new to the county and work elsewhere so I’m not familiar with the local politics, but webacasting is something that helps all of us stay informed. I urge the local council-people to start sharing what they’re doing. Your county is changing and newcomers expect openness in local government.

    • Welcome to the county Robert J. Since you are not familiar with the local politics I will tell you why I support the broadcast of meetings. Prior to the general election a State Senator and a State Delegate ( accompanied by his vieographer) attended a County Commissioner meeting and used edited clips of that meeting to bolster their positions. If the citizens had seen the entire meeting their impressions would have been quite different. I agree that newcomers expect openness in local government. They also expect that “closed” executive session meetings as authorized under state law not have their proceedings leaked by any elected official to political allies.

      • Michael D

        Good to hear broader support growing for streaming the county meetings. With access to the Internet these days it’s too easy and inexpensive. The netcasts should include both the workshop and the regular meeting, as the workshops are where the discussions occur.

        We agree in that the meeting you reference is one reason the comissioners should support doing this. Our guess is that this was a moment in the changing media landscape to take note of because of the number of recordings that were going on in that room.

        Just so we don’t confuse others that weren’t there and aren’t following Cecl County politics step-by-step like some, I’ll briefly describe what happened. In that controversial meeting where questions were asked about whether Cecil County government was supporting a political group’s fundrasing efforts, several video-recordings were underway capturing the frame by frame action.

        The local daily newspaper, for the first time to our knowledge, had a professional videographer with camera equipment there recording the entire meeting. When the paper covered the story a day or so later, it covered some aspects of the meeting, but not what appeared to be important elements to us. Meanwhile, the Senator and Delegate also had recorded the meeting and they too posted video outakes on the web.

        Of course, as typically happens in Cecil County politics, a great argument developed about what happened inside that room, so thank-goodness the meeting was recorded, or none of us, even the first-hand observers, would have been able to separate it out.

        When this blog was challenged as to why we reported that then-President Lockhart twice asked what can we do to resolve this problem and the daily newspaper didn’t report that happened, several posted feedback on this blog questioning whether that happened

        Well it did and it was way too easy to just link to those aspects and let people see for themselves if it had actually happened and how sincere the offering was (some argued it was just a joke). With viewers able to see the video clips, they didn’t have to take any reporting sources word for it. They didn’t need anyone filtering what they should know as they could see and evaluate it directly.

        As everyone fought back and forth about what had happened in the meeting, and all short video segments were available for anyone else, each side using those out-takes to support a view point, as one would logically expect, a reader called the Cecil Whig and asked the newspaper to release the entire tape, since there was such a dispute. They had recorded it professionally with equipment that caught the audio and all. The paper wouldn’t release the recording.

        MIchael D is right in that it wouild have been better to have the full video available, rather than each side being forced to offer up short supporting clips. But that’s just one reason. Beyond trying to sort out what happened after a meetings over, it’s also important to just make it easy to keep lots of eyes on action so there can be participation. It doesn’t have to be costly. (see link to more detailed article below.

        Also Michael D you bring up the question about closed meetings. Here at Someone Noticed we don’t believe the commissioners followed guidelines when they shut the public out of some meetings where public business was being dsicussed. One of those was when the commissioners went behind closed doors to hire a lobbyist in a non-comeptitive bid situation to fight the FOP labor agreement matter. We wrote at that time that we didn’t believe that the commissioners were following state guidelines. IN other places media serves as a watchdog and challenges the local government when it goes behind closed doors. That hasn’t happened here in well over a decade, if it ever h appened. Yet in Kent Co. a place with apopulation 1/5 of Cecil County, the local weekly challenges local government many times a year. Hmmm.

        Here’s one link to the news piece at that time.
        http://someonenoticed.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/president-lockhart-how-do-we-fix-this-do-you-want-the-friends-to-give-the-money-back/

  2. Pingback: Kent Co. Considers Inexpensive System to Broadcast Video of Meetings « Citizens For Greater Centreville

  3. Why not broadcast the meetings? It is way too easy, doesn’t cost much of anything these days, and makes people so much more informed about public business. I say do it.

  4. Joey: They really should do these. It is very hard for citizens to stay informed in this county as legacy publishers don’t commit many resources to cover public policy matters so reporters are stretched really thin. If people could just watch the proceedings, they can come to their own decisions. We’ve seen the need demonstrated on important subjects several times as the legacy outlets provided minimal coverage, and sometimes provides selected angles for examination.

  5. Mike,
    I am amazed you missed this from the Cecil Guardian, December 30, 2010.

    “On December 21, the Cecil County Commissioners held a closed session meeting to discus collective bargaining issues.

    Former County Commissioner Brian Lockhart has since sent in a request for the minutes of that meeting.

    The commissioners voted 4 to 0 (Commissioner Tari Moore was absent) on Tuesday to deny the request.

    Commissioner Robert Hodge said that since collective bargaining is a on-going process, the commissioners must be able to meet to privately discuss the issues. To report those discussions would hamper their ability to negotiate.

    New Commissioners Diana Broomell and Michael Dunn agreed, saying that while they want transparency in government, they cannot release such information.

    The commissioners indicated they would vote on whether to release closed meeting minutes and/or tapes after the collective bargaining process is completed.”

    So much for transparency. So much for campaign promises. What are these, our PAID COUNTY employees doing that cannot be shared with their employers, the tax payers of Cecil County. If the commissioners want respect and support, they had better quit hiding and lying. It certainly didn’t take them long to start pulling the wool over our eyes.

    • Raoul, I did miss it, but thanks for pointing it out. We think all politicians should always have lots of light on their activities. It really is good for all of us amd contributes to the quality of government when politicians are aware ththat their every move is being watched by the public. That’s a role newspapers used to provide and they’d challenge these hings, as they still do down in Kent County. Amazing here that legacy media has never had any trouble in this area.

      However, in this case, we think they had authority under MD law to go behind closed doors to discuss labor negotations. We’re strong supporters of open meetings and look to challenge those whenever possible as we frequently point out, but in this case it seems appropriate. Of course, the county could always get a legal opinion from their attorney, the same one that advises Elkton on such matters.

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