Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

TO TAPE OR NOT TO TAPE

Recently, the North Mankato city council passed a resolution which requested the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners video tape all of our meetings so they can be aired on public access television. (I have not seen-or to my knowledge, the county has not received the actual request.) The city of North Mankato tapes their meetings as does the city of St. Peter and many other cities. The suggestion is that this will allow citizens who may not be able to attend meetings the opportunity to find out what is going on. I am one hundred percent in support of increasing the knowledge of all citizens in regard to units of government.
In the twelve years that I have served on the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners the subject of increasing access and knowledge of the workings of county government to the public has been discussed many times. About ten years ago, when I was the “newbie” on the board, I encouraged public hearings and meetings be held at times other than during eight to five working hours of most citizens. My argument was that people who are working cannot and will not take off of work to attend a hearing or meeting. I was very aware of this as I had come from the eight to five working world and I had to take time off of work to file for office. At one point, I presented a motion to hold the second meeting of each month in the evening to accomplish more openness. The motion failed by a four to one vote. As new members joined the board, the subject of video taping for public access surfaced. There was a time, if I recall correctly, the board members were in general support. However, there were a couple of reasons why we did not move forward. I think the biggest concern was of equity among all of the citizens of the county. Public access could reach only people living in St. Peter and North Mankato. That left 8,305 of the county’s 30,797 citizens out of the loop so to speak. Add to this inequity, the cost of hiring someone to do the taping or run the camera and the con of this idea has outweighed the pro.
This discussion would not be complete if we did not ask ourselves, “how many citizens are interested in the workings of county government?” This can only be answered by conjecture. Over the years, we have had very few citizens attend our board meetings. In October, we held a meeting at our new Public Works facility in the city of Lafayette. This meeting would have presented a good opportunity for anyone who was free on that afternoon to attend the meeting and observe government in action. No one chose to do so. (There were a few people who stopped to see the building, have a cup of coffee and a cookie, observed the meeting for a few minutes, but then left.) Along that line, this writer has developed a curriculum for a course entitled, “Local Government, It’s Here For You”. This course was offered through Community Education in St. Peter in October. Only one person signed up for the course.
Some units of government are broadcasting their meetings live on the Internet. A county that does this is Charlotte County, Florida. Check it out at www.charlottecountyfl.com This is the way to allow the public to access government.(Their meetings are available on archives if the viewer is unable to watch them live.) However, dial up internet users would be at a great disadvantage. (I am on dial up and I can’t even watch Utube!) So, until all of rural Minnesota has access to high speed broadband internet service at a reasonable cost, we would be picking and choosing who has access and who does not. The equity issue would still be the roadblock.
This issue will continue to be discussed and debated and the Nicollet County Board will continue to improve our methods of communicating with the general public. end

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