Macon City Council members want all their public discussions easily available to residents. While that may start soon, it could be greatly enhanced by a separate city project that already was in the works.
The council’s biweekly Tuesday evening meetings already are broadcast on public-access cable channel 14 and streamed on the city’s website, www.cityofmacon.net. But the city has been disputing Cox Communication’s move of public-access channels off basic analog cable, and city residents aren’t necessarily accustomed to looking for video on the city website.
A bigger problem, said Councilwoman Lauren Benedict -- a co-sponsor of the recently-approved resolution to broadcast all meetings -- is that the full council meetings are “very boring.” In those, there’s usually little discussion because the council usually ratifies items that have been thoroughly discussed in committees during the preceding two weeks.
“The reason I’m interested in the committee meetings being broadcast is, that’s where the work of City Council really occurs,” Benedict said.
Lots of supporting information and staff reports that aren’t voted on also get aired in the council’s half-dozen committees, she said.
The resolution to broadcast all council committee meetings passed last week, sponsored by Benedict and Councilmen Frank Tompkins and Larry Schlesinger. It doesn’t include an effective date, but Benedict said she’d like to see it done “as soon as possible.”
That may take a couple of weeks in the committee where she serves as chairwoman -- the Community Resources and Development Committee -- partly because that committee has no legislation pending at its next meeting. But for Benedict, and all committee chairpersons, broadcasting will mean moving meetings across the hall from an often-crowded committee room to the main council chamber with its raised semi-circle of chairs.
That’s an inconvenient stage for less-formal meetings, with a lack of microphones for the other council members and city staff who often attend committees, she said.
And that lack is a major reason behind an upgrade of the main council chamber which already was in the works. During committee discussion on the resolution, Tompkins mentioned $70,000 available for any needed equipment. But while that money is a solid proposal, it’ll have to wait.
“There’s not $70,000 in the current budget. It’s in the proposed budget for 2013,” said Stephen Masteller, the city’s Information Technology director. Fiscal 2013 begins July 1, 2012, and the budget for that year won’t be approved until May or June.
“The focus or thrust of what was proposed in the 2013 budget was to modernize and improve the council chamber,” he said. “The capital item to modernize council chambers was submitted long before the resolution was, I believe, even contemplated.”
The most crucial need: a better sound system. Even on current broadcasts of full council meetings, some parts are inaudible, Masteller said.
But the money also may buy a few flat-screen TVs on which various presentations could be shown clearly, visible to council and public alike, instead of being projected on the current folding screen, he said.
“This is all part of a bigger picture of getting city business out to the public,” Masteller said.
One hitch in that plan is the city’s ongoing tangle with Cox Communications about moving the public-access channels. Even when the council meetings were shown on analog cable, Cox disregarded city pleas to advertise it, Masteller said. Now that the channels have moved to digital broadcast, it takes a special box for analog set-owners to see them. Cox provided that box free for a year but is now charging for it.
No matter what the city does to enhance its presentation of meetings, it won’t be much help if they’re not seen, Masteller said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.