Time For Lights…Camera…Action!


If you’ve looked at our “banner” you know that the motto of PublicWatchdog is a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Information is the currency of democracy.” 

More than fifty years after televisions became commonplace in most homes, we can watch the workings of the United States Congress and the Cook County Board from the comfort of our own easy chairs.  But if you want to see for yourself what our City Council is up to, you either have to hike down to City Hall or wait for the local papers to come out and hope that (a) they actually covered the meeting; and (b) they reported the important stuff accurately and completely.

But all that may change if Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) has his way.  Schmidt wants the City to start televising Council meetings live – and to replay recorded meetings – on the City’s public access channel that apparently was de-activated due to non-use.  According to Schmidt, “a better-informed public would be well worth the cost” of setting up and operating the system.  We agree.

But leave it to City Hall to find a way to gum up a good idea and keep the voters in the dark.  According to a recent story in the Herald-Advocate (“City meetings on TV could cost taxpayers $131,000+ in first year,” November 22)[pdf], the City wants to set up a Cadillac broadcasting system when a Chevy would be enough.  It’s an old government trick: If you don’t want something, make it so expensive that it becomes financially unattractive.

Instead of installing cameras only in the Council Chambers at a relatively modest cost (approximately $50,000, as best as we can estimate from the sketchy numbers the City has released), Finance & Budget Committee chairman Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) and the bureaucrats have come up with a grand plan that requires the installation of cameras in at least three rooms at City Hall and one room at the Public Works building.  But that’s not all.

Although simply televising the meetings would be a quantum leap beyond what we currently have – which is nothing – live and recorded television broadcasts apparently are not enough for Richie D and the Killer Bs (as in “Bureaucrats”): They also want live streaming video and recorded video online because they “have a feeling most people would view it that way.” 

Here’s a suggestion: Wire up the Council Chambers only, so that the citizens can watch the Council meetings live and via taped re-broadcasts on cable access.  Then work out the scheduling so that most, if not all, of the various committees can hold their meetings in the Council Chambers rather than in two other City Hall rooms or the Public Works building.  And, at least for now, forget about wiring up the three extra venues, as well as about the streaming Internet.  That should save at least around $80,000 right off the bat, if not more.

Mark Twain is credited with comparing the making of laws to the making of sausage, and suggesting that people who like either shouldn’t watch them being made.  Being able to watch our City Council in action on television might not be pretty, but at least it would let the average voter see for himself where all the baloney is coming from.

4 comments so far

Is it just my imagination, or do the
“bureaucrats” try to kill proposals like this by jacking up the price?

I can’t believe it would cost $130,000. And the headline by the Herald-Advocate sure looks like an alarm bell trying to scare readers into complaining about spending that kind of money. Of course, televising meetings would force those reporters to improve their reporting, because people more people could actually see for themselves what’s going on and how the reporting is lacking.

Good call, hoover – today’s Herald-Advocate contains a letter by Bud Jones that complains about spending $130,000 to televise council and committee meetings.

We do believe, however, that Mr. Jones is being disingenuous when he suggests that he’d rather see $130,000 spent on additional police patrols so that kids wouldn’t get robbed at knifepoint – referring to two recently reported incidents. We may have missed it, but we don’t recall hearing our police department demanding, and being denied, more street patrols; and we don’t see how another patrol car or two could be counted on to prevent those kinds of crimes.

We continue to support televised council and committee meetings, but with a much more realistic cost.

It seems to me that Park Ridge would be better off on a project like this by starting out with a single fixed-camera recording of the meetings in the City Council chamber. The City Clerk could upload the recording to the City’s existing website the following day, such that residents could view/download the meeting on demand. It’s not fancy, but something like this could be accomplished for a fraction of the current $131,000 pricetag suggested by City staff. Moreover, a simple setup like this would give the City a low-cost way to accurately measure the public’s interest in this type of content before committing additional funds.

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