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Council meetings go on the air in March

January 22, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Live ... from the City of Hagerstown ... it's the Hagerstown City Council work sessions and meetings, coming soon to a television near you.

While the council agreed Tuesday to start televising its meetings and work sessions in March, council members said they can't promise it will be entertaining television.

"It scares me to think who would want to watch the meetings ... as mundane and boring as they would be," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

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There might be emotional moments during the work sessions, Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said.

"How will the general public perceive it if (Councilwoman Penny May Nigh) gets angry or I get angry?" Hendershot asked.

Nigh shrugged and said she had no problem with people seeing her angry.

"Am I human? I'm human," Nigh said.

Hendershot opposed televising the work sessions, where most deliberation occurs, saying he preferred that only the monthly voting sessions be televised.

Hendershot has expressed concern that some speakers, including council members, might be less open if all meetings were televised.

Councilman Kristin Aleshire said he did not think the city should televise only the voting session, which he described as "showing just half an hour of us saying 'aye' and 'nay.'"

If all city residents see is their elected officials voting, they may think that is all that happens at meetings, when in reality, the council spends most of the time at three of the four meetings each month discussing and debating issues, Metzner said.

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, city spokeswoman Karen Giffin said.

The city has additional plans for the equipment.

"If this is used properly, it could be the greatest thing the city ever has had about dealing with perception," Metzner said. For example, the city can respond to the perception that there is insufficient parking downtown, he said.

Metzner said he wondered whether downtown merchants would be interested in a program highlighting them, if the city agreed to air what would essentially be free advertising.

Metzner said he was concerned about whether city staff would have the time to make quality presentations for the cable channel. He suggested the city see if it can find a student intern willing to do that work.

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