Sorting the rules on videotaped meetings

London Community News
Adelaide-Metcalfe is one of those little townships with long names formed during the big-is-better days of municipal government in the Mike Harris era.

Located at the west end of Middlesex County, the township is home to 3,000 people — and apparently restrictive policies on open and accessible government.

Earlier this month some residents tried to videotape proceedings of the Adelaide-Metcalfe township council in session. The mayor ordered them to stop and, when they wouldn’t, called in the police. The result has been posted on YouTube.

That’s in sharp contrast to city council meetings in London where media and citizen cameras and tape recorders have long been welcome and where gavel-to-gavel cable TV coverage is the norm.

Now London is about to go one step farther — full live streamed coverage via the Internet of all council and committee meetings with the video linked to agenda items. This will allow any citizen with access to the Internet through a desktop or laptop computer or smart phone to not only watch council meetings live, but to also easily access pertinent agenda reports.
As well, all the video and linked reports will be archived on the city’s website.

Installation of the necessary equipment began last week. When the whole system is turned on for the July 24 council meeting, London will become the first city in Ontario and one of only a handful in Canada with this capability.
Such a system has been a long time coming.

First recommended in a 2009 report by a task force established by council to review governance issues, Internet streaming of civic meetings was seen as a way to enhance public accountability and to encourage wider participation by local citizens.

But live and archived streaming first had to await a $1.5 million renovation of council chambers. There have been growing pains with that, not the least of which has been issues with the sound system still not totally resolved.

Of late, council members have been ticked off by a new requirement. When one speaker is finished, he or she must switch off their personal microphone before the next speaker can begin. Such dexterity seems to elude some members.

City Clerk Cathy Saunders, who has overall responsibility for the council chambers and for its equipment, says the off-on microphone requirement is necessary to ensure the links to agenda items in the streaming system are maintained. These links enable viewers to bring up relevant agenda reports with an easy click or to quickly search for an agenda item after a meeting and watch the appropriate debate.

Ms. Saunders has jurisdiction over the four-camera system during council and committee meetings, too. Unlike what was done in Adelaide-Metcalfe, the mayor alone cannot order the system shut down in London, nor have the chamber cleared of video and audio recording devices. However, a majority decision of the council could.

Such a move would surely cause a public outcry, given the angry response to an attempt recently to ban banners, signs, applause and cellphones from the gallery.

There are also questions about how the archived video records could be used and what their legal status will be. Ms. Saunders admits these are grey areas in the Ontario Municipal Act as rapidly-evolving technology gives new capabilities both to civic administrations and the public.

You can find the Adelaide-Metcalfe video confrontation at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt7rBPnyy3Y&feature=youtu.be.

Philip McLeod, a longtime London journalist, can be reached at phil@philipmcleod.ca.

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Posted on May 18, 2012, in Ethics, Municipalities. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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