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Will council meetings change if televised?

January 06, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A majority of Hagerstown City Council members said they do not expect the televising of their meetings to affect what they say and do, but Councilman N. Linn Hendershot is skeptical.

Hendershot said he is concerned that televising meetings and work sessions would interfere with the natural exchange of information. He said some people might hesitate to make remarks knowing that people outside the council chambers could see and hear them.

Also, just as some politicians grandstanded after C-Span began televising U.S. Congressional proceedings, some people at council meetings might pander to the cameras, Hendershot said.

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"Everyone will be afraid they might say something that might turn the constituents away," he said. "They will be trying hard to be politically correct rather than doing what is best for the citizens of Hagerstown."

Cameras to televise the meetings were installed in recent months.

The $86,000 cost for the equipment, its installation and training for its use were paid for by Antietam Cable Television as part of its franchise agreement with the city, spokeswoman Karen Giffin said.

The council is scheduled to discuss televising future meetings at its Jan. 21 meeting.

Hendershot said he supports televising monthly voting sessions, partially because they include public hearings and citizen comment sections, but not work sessions. The work sessions would not have the relaxed feel they now have if cameras were rolling, he said.

Council members discuss issues but do not vote at work sessions.

Mayor William M. Breichner and all council members but Hendershot said they would not change their remarks or actions if the meetings were televised.

Councilwoman Carol N. Moller said the presence of the four cameras might help people remember to think before they speak at meetings.

Hendershot said he has made statements at council meetings he later regretted and will be even more careful about doing so if the meetings are recorded.

That is not why he opposes televising the meetings, he said.

Breichner said televising the meetings provides a service to the community by letting people see what their elected officials are doing.

It will also help when meetings are standing-room only, he said. The council meeting room holds 60 people.

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