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Council stars on cable TV

January 09, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Here's some good news. Antietam Cable is planning to air Hagerstown City Council meetings.

At least I suppose it's good news - you know, democracy, open government and all that rot.

But personally, I think reality television peaked at about the second episode of "Survivor I, The Early Years," and I have found the entire genre ever since to be floridly unwatchable.

So now City Hall is coming into our living rooms? I could barely tolerate Arsenio Hall, and the thought of Penny Nigh up on the dais going "woof woof woof" just makes everything go a bit black.

Councilman Linn Hendershot, for one, thinks there may indeed be a temptation for council members to "play to the cameras" and say and do things they might not otherwise.

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Like what, spike the gavel in the end zone after every decision? Model revealing underwear? Will we get to see the council members arriving via limousine a la the Oscars, with a Channel 25 reporter commenting on what each one is wearing? "Where did Carol get that dress, it's AWFUL, and those shoes, my GAWD."

No, I don't think Linn needs to worry about that. Based on what happened with the televised School Board meetings, it wasn't like anyone did anything any differently - they just did what they always do - i.e., talk - for a lot longer.

To a politician, a camera is verbal Viagra. At the sight of a lens and a mike, they tend to talk and talk and talk, until your brain feels it's been soaking in Novocaine for about a week and a half.

As a general rule, I don't attend public meetings because they are basically spin forums entirely devoid of meaningful discourse. Unless Don Allensworth shows up, then they're kind of interesting.

But I did make a truly honest effort to log some time with the televised Washington County Board of Education meetings, since it didn't require any more effort on my part than changing the channel over from "Sportscenter."

It turned out to be the completest failure that ever was. I don't think I was more than three minutes into the droning - "Fellow board members, I think we need to define our terms for the stakeholders; are we talking about an aptitude-based evaluation system or a core syntax management paradigm creating synergism of knowledge flow..." - before I was face down in the Alfredo sauce.

And speaking of the word "stakeholders," can everyone involved in education please agree to drop it? Like most of the latest buzzwords, it doesn't work, OK? When you use the word stakeholder, I don't know whether you're trying to educate a kid or kill a vampire.

So if City Council members are worried about how they appear on TV they needn't be, since no policy wonk this side of Steve Sager will be watching. No one will be watching, that is, unless they do something really wacky and roughly parallel to other reality TV programs, which I would highly encourage.

This is, after all, City Hall government. It could be the ultimate Big Brother show. City Council, tribal council, what's the difference?

Lock them all up in chambers for, oh I don't know, a couple of years. Although in all honesty, how long would it be before Kristen Aleshire gets voted off the island - about 30 minutes? He is one more discourse on land-use policy from getting his mouth duct-taped by other council members as it is.

Better yet, lock the City Council members up with their bestest buddies, the County Commissioners. See if it's possible for them to hate each other any more than they already do. At the end of two weeks, let them drain about a case of hooch and give each one of them a two-by-four.

That, I swear, I'd watch.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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