Technology Spurs Demands for More Open Government

The Progress-Index online (Petersburg, VA)

By F.M. Wiggins (Staff Writer)
Published: April 24, 201

With rapidly growing technology, some area residents are demanding that local governments use the latest electronic gadgets in order to have more open government.

Recently throughout the area, there have been demands for more open government - specifically demands from residents that their local government bodies broadcast or stream live on the Internet public meetings.

In some cases, local governments already air their meetings and other localities are already working on providing this service.

The City of Hopewell and Chesterfield County already tape and broadcast their City Council and Board of Supervisors meetings. Petersburg is working on developing a way to stream its City Council meetings. However, it hasn't been slow to become more open since January. When Mayor Brian Moore took office, council voted to ask the clerk's office to put the entire agenda packet online. Now in addition to the agenda, background materials on issues as well as meeting minutes are available through the city's website.

Soon, Petersburg City Council members may be using iPads to go paperless as well.

The Petersburg School Board took a similar action when it began using BoardDocs. The system allows access by the public to the meeting agendas and many presentations that are made during meetings.

Neither has started using video yet.

Linwood Christian recently at a Petersburg School Board meeting did ask the School Board to consider video streaming the meetings because "not everyone can make it out to these meetings at night."

While Petersburg has been at least receptive to the idea of broadcasting meetings, other localities seem ambivalent to the idea at best.

In Colonial Heights, the issue was raised at the Feb. 8 City Council meeting. During the public comments, Lewis Waskey said that he believes the city needs to have their meetings televised or streamed to the city's website.

Mayor Scott Davis said that the topic had been brought up before.

"I understand the concept of getting the meetings to more citizens," Davis said. But Davis said that he feared there could be more grandstanding by residents of the city if the meetings were aired on TV or broadcast online. "People could take things out of context and I'm not in favor of that."

He added that the same people that would have to go to the city's website to watch the meetings would be able to find out information about the meetings. "I think there are other ways to get more information out there," Davis said.

Other local governments have tried taping their meetings but have since stopped.

Between April 2007 and February 2008 Prince George County taped and aired its Board of Supervisors meetings. The county invested $3,968 in consumer-grade video recording equipment and bought a spindle of DVDs for about $50. It reimbursed county employees who volunteered to tape the meetings.

The meetings were later broadcast on the local cable access channel. At the time, about 2,900 residents of the county were subscribers to the local cable provider.

The taping of meetings was stopped in February 2008 by a vote of 3-2. Supervisor Alan Carmichael said during the vote at the Feb. 26, 2008, board meeting he would rather see county employees working for county residents during the day, instead of getting time off in return for videotaping meetings. He added that he felt it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"Not everybody can be here, and I'm a big believer in open government," Supervisor William Robertson said at the meeting Feb. 26, 2008.

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