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Public Meetings Are Ready For Prime Time
Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010
Today's opinion page of the Baltimore Sun includes a letter from a software developer who is critical of the city's proposal to broadcast public meetings on cable TV. In fact, the writer says while "well-intentioned, it would be far more transparent, cheaper and broader to publish meeting notices and minutes of all city boards and agencies on the Internet."
Whenever the idea of televising public meetings comes up there are always naysayers who complain about the cost of the broadcasts, or lament that "nobody wants to watch the council on TV."
Actually, people do tune in. They can not only listen to the presentations and debates, they can view the slides, and hear the public comments. And they can see how their elected and appointed officials behave during meetings.
An on-line transcript will not show the mayor rolling his eyes or frowning when disagreeing with a comment. Written records do not carry the same weight as hearing the tone and inflection of the speaker. They also do not reveal when elected officials whisper to one another during deliberations, or leave the dais.
The Maryland Public Meetings Act requires all governmental and quasi-governmental meetings be open and accessible to all. The state's Public Information Act enables individuals to access government records.
The letter of the law simply requires transparency. But I know that, short of attending in person, a televised or streamed meeting is the best way to share the democratic process with everyone.
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