In what Commissioner Dean Browning calls a "tactical retreat," he withdrew his webcasting initiative at last night's meeting of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. "It's apparent from the first reading and subsequent discussion that there's not enough votes for this to go forward."
But public transparency advocates will be happy to note that Comm'r David Jones has descended from his pulpit with an answer. Claiming to have had a "stroke of conscience" over his previous complaint that a camera might destroy the "integrity" of their proceedings, Jones has suggested filming a budget hearing or two to see "what the public appetite might be." He's even offered to bring some teenagers in from his church, claiming they won't cost much.
Budget hearings are probably the most important work done by a legislative body, but sitting through them is a lot like root canal. What Jones is really doing is trying his best to kill a transparency initiative, while getting a few bucks for some kids from his church in the process. When the Lehigh Valley Zoo funding was in trouble, that would be a time to gauge public interest. When Don Cunningham's safe streets proposal became controversial, cameras would have informed the public.
Browning's webcasting initiative may have temporarily failed, but commissioners were very eager eager to demonstrate a commitment to open government. Like Jesus in Gethsemane, Bill Leiner was once again up all night pondering the problem, something he mentioned three times. Then Glenn Eckhart proposed posting minutes on the county's web page, something that Lehigh County has amazingly never done. That motion, seconded by Dean Browning, carried unanimously.
Andy Roman still chastised his colleagues.
"I'm just disappointed to see that this measure is being withdrawn and we are dickering over a few thousand dollars to communicate what we do in a county government to the public. This falls under the category in my mind of majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. We had a $6 million pricetag on a Linden Street bridge project that could have been delayed and paid for by the state. And we decided to pick up a $6 million tab for the Linden Street bridge. We decided to spend $200 thousand to pour cement down a sinkhole at the juvenile detention center. We didn't bat an eye on any of those big ticket items. ... Now we are spending twenty or thirty minutes over whether we should allow cameras to allow the public to view what it is that we're doing. In my mind, we have reverted to majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors, and I'm sad to see it."
For Dean Browning's withdrawal, click here.