The Gordon Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government would like to express its disappointment in the Baxter City Council's decision not to televise its public meetings. Increasing numbers of local governments all over the state, from school boards to city councils to county commissions, have proven that televising their public meetings is an inexpensive way to make their proceedings accessible to larger numbers of citizens.
Most cable franchise agreements provide money to local governments that can be used for equipment to televise public meetings and events on a public access channel that is provided by the cable company. The city of Baxter has instead thus far chosen to divert the money to their general fund rather than apply it to its intended purpose.
One city councilman was quoted as saying that "a televised meeting...takes away from the two-way discourse and dialogue between people and city government." The Rosenmeier Center believes that this could not be further from the truth. Televised public meetings make the proceedings of local governments open to more people, and therefore provide the opportunity for more discourse, more participation, and a better-educated citizenry. In fact, an article in The Dispatch only a day earlier recounted the story of one citizen who was watching the Brainerd City Council on television and became inspired enough that she dropped what she was doing and went to the meeting to participate in person. And that was a "young" person, by the way, indicating the folly of the assertion of one Baxter council member that Brainerd's "older" population is interested in watching its local government at work whereas Baxter's "younger" population is not.
As the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, we should remember President Bush's call for increased civic involvement. Televising Baxter city council meetings is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to do just that. The Rosenmeier Center urges the Baxter City Council to reconsider its decision, and through our "Public Broadcasting of the Public's Business" initiative we stand ready to help.
(Ceriello is executive director of the Gordon Rosenmeier for State and Local Government.)
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