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Reaching the new standard

By Staff | Mar 4, 2009

During the past few weeks, a number of city officials have again brought up the notion of making local government meetings – including City Council and Planning Commission sessions – available to more members of the public by broadcasting their gatherings via television or Internet.

In Sanibel, for example, both groups regularly meet on Tuesday mornings, a time when most working class citizens are unable to attend. In most instances, these sessions where island legislation is debated and decisions for the future of all Sanibelians are bantered, only a dozen or so comprise an audience.

In an era when members of the public are demanding more transparency in the administration of their local governments, and in a time when technologies are now readily available, perhaps there is no better time to reconsider videotaping city meetings and offering island residents – full-time and seasonal – an available real-time broadcast, either on cable television (via Comcast’s local government channel) or via the Internet on the city’s Web site.

“Frankly, a lot of people simply don’t want to sit here (for these meetings),” said City Councilman Marty Harrity during the Feb. 17 session. “I think (broadcasting city government meetings) would lend more transparency to the process. Let’s make it totally available, totally open.”

City Manager Judie Zimomra said earlier this week that the city had investigated the possibility of videotaping their meetings about four years ago, but the cost to complete the installation – which would include a stationary and remote camera, new microphones and lighting at MacKenzie Hall and the additional personnel to operate the equipment – was prohibitive.

Zimomra also stated that there may be less expensive technologies available now for broadcasting meetings on the city’s Web site, www.mysanibel.com. The first step of the process, however, would be a directive from the City Council to investigate what it would cost to add video broadcasts to the list of special services offered by the city.

In support of the idea, Mayor Mick Denham told the Planning Commission at their Feb. 24 session that both Harrity and fellow councilman Jim Jennings have brought up the possibility of broadcasting city meetings.

“I think that the reason we haven’t done it yet has been because of budget constraints,” Denham said, “but there is a great amount of interest and benefit to the community who might not be available to attend our meetings.”

Currently, the city offers an audio version of its City Council meetings on www.mysanibel.com. Planning Commission chair Michael Valiquette asked about the possibility of making other city government meetings available on audio as well.

We think that the residents of the island – who are increasingly demanding to know more about the facts and figures, rules and regulations pondered, passed and/or rejected by our elected and appointed officials – should request city leaders investigate the potential to make video broadcasts of local government meetings available to all.

Such information-based technology, in 2009, isn’t considered a luxury any longer in communities across this country. It’s considered the new standard. Shouldn’t Sanibel be offering the same?

– Reporter editorial