Thursday, July 23, 2009

LC Comm'rs: Instead of Webcasting, How About Online Minutes?

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"I'm just disappointed to see that this measure is being withdrawn and we are dickering over a few thousand dollars to communicate what we do in a county government to the public.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.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand the phobia about being filmed. How much would it cost to give all the commissioners makeovers so they'd be more confident in front of the camera?

Anonymous said...

Nice speech, buy a camera stand.

LVCI said...

I suppose posting the minutes would be better then nothing, but video provides facial expressions, hesitant pauses in speech or shouting. As they say, pictures tell a 1,000 words. Certain items can be stricken from the minutes, no?

Satirically speaking: Can you imagine criminal cases being decided by the jury not present and only pass a ruling based on by the court stenographer's records? Yes I know you will say, well these aren't criminals. But that would be a matter of opinion . < just kidding

I can't see hand jesters in the minutes. But if they're worried about 'flipping the bird', they could still do that behind the desk out of camera view anyway. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow. No minutes posted on their website? That is pathetic.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:24, I'm shitty at shooting video.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, you are doing a great service by telecasting the Lehigh Commissioners deliberating ironically an "open government" effort using webcast technology.

Where is the Morning Call?

Maybe citizens would be better informed and more engaged in the local political process if this telecast was a regular occurence.

Commissioner Roman said it best, his fellow board members are majoring on minor expenses and minoring on major expenses. They are sophmoric and lack proper perspective.

He and Dino Browning are leading the charge for opening up their meetings while the others are making silly excuses.

Roman & Browning will win the day for they are on the right side of the argument. Truth will prevail.

Thanks for allowing us to tune-in.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is inevitable. I'd love to know how some of the candidates come down on this question.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, can they see you videotaping them now? What do they do when they see you? Break into a sweat? Run screaming out of the room when you're done? Do they act that different when the camera is on than when the camera is off? Do they know how similar webcasting is to filming with a little camera?

Jebediah Feheufenstueckher said...

Maybe they're all Amish. Amish people believe that your soul is stolen if you get a picture taken.

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

Interesting comments about the "Reverand" Jones.

If you ever have some spare time, you might find it interesting to see how far the tentacles of his church reach into Allentown politics.

ironpigpen said...

Sehr schoen, Herr Feheufenstueckher mit dem Amish!

What about teleprompters?

If people are on camera, will those (teleprompters) not be needed, too?

Obama has a teleprompter. Should not commissioners, therefore, not have teleprompters, too?

Or is commissioner above Obama's pay grade

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Interesting comments about the "Reverand" Jones"

Whenever I listen to him, I get the feeling I'm listening to a snake oil salesman.

Anonymous said...

Out west of the Pecos where I come from, we were pioneers (slightly behind Service Electric) of cable tv.

In keeping with our "cowboys and cowgirls CAN handle the truth" approach to life and our penchant for open government, let it be noted my rinky-dink college/mining/cattle home town had public access tv in 1982. We broadcast city council and county supervisors meetings starting then.

It's 2009 for christ's sake. What the hell is this - assbackwardsland?

And why is it that it's the Democrats who have a hoard time with this.


Get with the fuckin' 90's at least.

Anonymous said...


typo. should say "hard" time

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Where is the Morning Call?"

Actually, I got the idea of videotaping snippets of meetings from seeing what Jarrett Renshaw does at the MC.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:37, Loved your perspective. This is what I've been telling these guys.

Anonymous said...

You feel that way about commissioner Jones because you are a racist.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bullshit. A politician getsd no immunity here bc he happens to be black or she happens to be a woman. Jonesd has taken a position at odds with my fundamental belief in open and transparent government. he has acvtually gone so far as to argue that more open public meetings would destory their integrity. he suggests he has stts shwing there is no interest but fails to produce them. He is a snake oil salesman, and I will not tone down my criticism bc he happens to be black.

Marc Grammes said...

I support the use of webcasting. I used to be lukewarm to this idea, because several commissioners could and would tend to dominate a meeting, essentially politicizing the event, often at the expense of the issue at hand. I do believe some commissioners fight for snippets in the Morning Call, which sometimes would not even bother to cover the meetings. If you would look at the coverage of our meetings from the reporter from the East Penn Press weekly newspapers and the beat writer from the Morning Call, you would often leave with the conclusion that there were two different meetings. Webcasting would perhaps force a reporter to generate a more representative account of the meeting. Also, while I used to think that cameras might intimidate the public during the opportunity for public comment, I feel that we could be reaching a whole new group of our constituents. Webcasting could provide for additional public input via phone, letter or e-mail coming from common people who find it difficult to attend meetings due to time constraints or physical limitations. Then there are always weather issues. The meetings are NEVER canceled for bad weather. As far as the Government on the Go sessions...quite frankly they are poorly attended. While I supported the concept of bringing county government to the people, we are essentially accomplishing this with webcasting. I do not think the cost is prohibitive. The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. The commissioner meetings would not have to be funded by the commissioners office portion of the budget. It could come from the department of public affairs, with the Director of that department taking responsibility for interfacing with the information technology group. After viewing the meetings, most probably will gain much more respect for Commissioners like Sterling Raber, who tend comment far less but speak with their vote! I'll have to take the time to listen and see what the current crop say on the issue, but not today. John Wayne is on TV! Percy loses.