Mayor Butch Berry said at Monday’s city council meeting there had been a wellspring of objections from the public following council’s vote at the Jan. 8 meeting to stop broadcasting city council meetings, so he added a discussion of reconsidering the previous vote to the agenda.
The four who spoke in Public Comments were testament to Berry’s point. Laura Jo Smole stated when she heard council voted to stop the broadcasts, she wondered, “What were they thinking?” She then thought council was not thinking because there was no discussion and a quick unanimous vote. She considered it disturbing council would make such a major decision with no discussion, and asked aldermen to reconsider.
Harold Meyer also objected to council’s decision and the way it was made. He questioned the motive behind the decision and said he did not believe the reason was about expense, but rather was retaliation for council being held accountable for its responsibilities toward citizens.
Cameron DeNoewer said there was a coalition of citizens and businesses ready to fundraise to pay for the cost of the broadcast and closed-captioning, but council instead made a hasty decision without stopping to ask questions or embrace the community. As a result, there were angry people in town because council once again did not do due diligence or access readily available resources. “We can help you. We want to help you if you’ll allow us,” he said. He urged aldermen to rethink the decision because they made a big mistake. “Embrace change and grow instead of stepping backward,” he implored.
Beau Satori also supported reinstating the live broadcasts of council meetings because broadcasts are an opportunity to engage citizens and keep the community involved. Aldermen can look at the camera and appeal for volunteers for commission seats, for example, but only if the meetings are broadcast. He also supported having meetings replayed on cable more often.
When the topic appeared on the agenda, alderman Kristi Kendrick said she was proud council had moved its meetings to the Auditorium so citizens could observe council proceedings and aldermen could face their constituents. She claimed one contributor to council discord and discourtesy in the past was the confinement of the jury room. However, another contributor was the broadcasting of council meetings because certain aldermen relish playing to the camera so that meetings become a reality show.
She maintained it was time to get back to good government where citizens attend meetings and aldermen face their constituents. She insisted if meetings were to be broadcast again, citizens would have no incentive to attend “and the televised reality slugfest will continue.”
She then moved that recording of council and commission meetings discontinue and such meetings be recorded solely by the taking of minutes by the city clerk. There was a brief pause but no second to her motion, so it died.
Alderman Mickey Schneider noted she was not present during the vote to discontinue broadcasts or she would have objected. “Not only do you have handicappers who for various reasons cannot come to meetings no matter where they are, you also have quite a few older people who do not have computers, who do not have cable, so what you’re doing by cutting off all broadcasts is alienating an awful lot of this town.”
She recounted that years ago her only chance to watch council meetings was on television as she prepared for work. She claimed some people in town bring little televisions to work so they can watch council meetings. “It is not right or fair to cut off these people,” she said. “It’s self-centered and egotistical!” She urged aldermen to consider their constituents and neighbors.
Alderman David Mitchell moved to continue broadcasting council meetings with closed-captioning, and the vote was 5-1, Kendrick voting No.