How much is Democracy Worth?
Ron Bolin: June 15, 2012
At the June 18 meeting of the Committee of the Whole (Council meeting by another name and able to do most anything except pass bylaws) to be held at the Shaw Auditorium at 4:30pm, a report will be brought forth from Staff which recommends that: “That video recording equipment not be added to the new Annex meeting room”. This will ensure that only the small number of citizens who will fit into the small new Annex board room at 4:30 in the afternoon if any seats are left over from Staff, will see what takes place in the discussions of budgets, finance, and city policy which take place in these meetings. Of course it could be worse. The meetings could be moved to 3am in a phone booth. Council has the power to do this. ;-)
But semi facetiousness aside, this recommendation, if followed by Council, means than many of the most important issues discussed and acted upon by our Council, those dealing with money and policy, will be unavailable for general public view. This is all the more important as a recent Council decision makes it mandatory that any group or citizen who wishes to address Council at a regular meeting must first attend at these invisible meetings.
The conclusion reached by the report is as follows:
“Adding video recording capablilities to the new Annex meeting room will require a comprehensive AV solution consisting of the following equipment: four video cameras, audio system with individual microphones, recording and switching control, webcasting, hearing assist facility; plus staff to operate the equipment during meetings. The cost of an acceptable quality solution will be $58,000 to $95000.
A low end solution, consisting of a single camera or lower priced equipment will not provide an acceptable quality of broadcast, given the current professional level of the regular Council meetings.”
Two alternatives are mentioned:
- Option 1, Council could choose to continue to hold the COW meetings in the Shaw Auditorium, where the meetings are currently being video recorded.
- Option 2, is to contract an AV service to record the meetings. The contractor would provide all the audio and video equipment and set it up on a temporary basis in the room. The result would be temporary cameras and cables throughout the room, infringing on the meeting progress. Staff have not investigated the cost implications of this option.
Neither option is properly costed. Nor is there any discussion or apparent consideration of the need, in a democracy, not only for justice to be done, but for it to be seen to done.
While my video savvy friends inform me that even the lower estimate may be padded, lets look at that amount a little bit closer. If we were to fit out the annex board room with the recommended equipment we would spend $58,000. What would we get for that amount? We would acquire equipment which could inform and enlighten our citizens which should last for at least 5 years. That gets us to about $11,600 per year. Then we get video of some 18 Committee of the Whole meetings per year. This gets the cost down, assuming the equipment is not used for any other purpose, to about $645 per meeting. But the big kicker is that we get the ability for some 85,000 citizens to see how Council works at a time and place convenient to them. That works out to about ¾ of one cent per Citizen per video. Granted that not all citizens, perhaps not even a majority, will view these videos for more than the most arousing issues, but it is important that the ability be there in a democracy, especially when it can be done at such an insignificant cost. Democracy demands, if not constant attention, then at least the capability to pay attention when it is needed.
And, for example, let’s take a look at another way $58,000 is spent. The Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) which is also on Monday’s agenda notes that Council expenses in 2011 amounted to $58,875.12, most of which I believe was spent on attendance at various conferences around Canada during the year. This amounts to about $4542 per Councillor in 2011 alone. How does the impact of this spending compare to the benefits which can be conferred on all citizens from the ability to take part in the City’s business?
I voted for Councillor Grieves principally for his promise to work to revitalize downtown.
Since the election not a peep from him on that promise.
What on earth does he do with himself other conspire with staff and his council colleagues to keep us in the dark?
PS . . . and don’t tell me the conference centre! I was at the teachers’ retirement banquet last night at the Coast.
Now those facilities are far superior to the cavernous VICC: food and service excellent, ambience even better and I’ll bet the hotel made a profit!
Re: “This is all the more important as a recent Council decision makes it mandatory that any group or citizen who wishes to address Council at a regular meeting must first attend at these invisible meetings.”
Have you checked with the provincial ministry which is responsible for the municipal act? I think this requirement is not valid. A lawyer should look into this.
> Perhaps it should also be mentioned not only could the cameras allow the
> public to view the meeting in real time, but the videos also become a
> reference library, as to who said what, when one reviews previous
There is a road sign as you leave Tahsis.
It reads; will the last person to leave please turn out the lights!
How long before this happens in Nanaimo & the last ‘real’ person leaves leaving Councillors,staff & City employees to oversee the minimum paying jobs at Woodgrove plus a handful of realtors?
We live in a vastly different world that teeters on the brink of financial collapse but our fearless leaders soldier on as if we were in the glory days!
Council hides behind closed doors handing out tax dollars to special interests seemingly oblivious to the real world.
Am I alone in saying we are wasting our time?
The more questions asked of accountibility & transparacy the more Council makes it’s decisions in camera.
The more Council says it will have a new approach the more it does things the same old way hiding it’s it’s intentions with newspeak .
Is it not time to stop mortgaging the future?
Council would be happy to work in peace and quiet and we can’t blame them for that. We can blame them if they try to accomplish this by keeping us in the dark. But if we don’t stimulate them by attending meetings and speaking out, or writing letters to our Councillors, the newspapers or blogs or speaking to our neighbours and suggesting some action, we have to blame ourselves. The loss of our ability to see our Council at work on our critical financial and policy issues and how they make decisions on our behalf is up for grabs tomorrow. Now is the time for action. We have a chance, lets not let it go by in silence.
Possibly actually showing up at meetings and making our wishes known would be infinitely more useful than chucking and chewing on blogs and writing letters to the editor.
That is not really fulfilling our civic duty, which for the most part we have given up on long, long ago.
So Jim, I guess I can see you at the COW meeting tomorrow afternoon making your feelings known. I will look forward to it. And this will be the first, and unless something happens tomorrow to overturn Staff’s recommendation in this matter, one of the last times that citizens will be able to actually view the COW meeting where most of the financial and policy matters of the city are discussed and determined. I’ll see you there.
As usual, I will be in attendance. As for speaking to anything, I don’t see anything in the Municipal report that is changeable or worth addressing.
I will only be interested to see how council deals with the telecast from the new annex issue, I predict the usual 5-4 split.
Any guesses who the 5 are?
Citizens can view the COW meeting any time they like. What am I missing?
Tomorrow is to be the first time that the COW will be recorded. This is to continue until the new Annex is occupied. Then, without the installation of video equipment there, the public will be back in the dark.
As for nothing interesting in the Annual Report, what about the dog that didn’t bark, but will soon bite us all in the butt, i.e. the annual $11.2 million dollar shortfall ) in required funds to maintain our current engineering and public works infrastructure. This figure does not include Parks and IT shortfalls. I have glossed through the report and didn’t find a word on the subject. If someone has seen it there, please let us all know.
And someone should get out the word at the COW meeting tomorrow afternoon.
Re: infrastructure shortfall, I raised that with council and Kenning two council meetings ago. They answered the question. “They are studying it and will report in the fall”. Council seems satisfied with that answer, and since we did give then authority to conduct our business, not much else to say.
Ron, does the annual report look forward or backward?.
There is no reason for the public to be in the dark just because the meeting is not telecast, they are free to attend as are you and I.
Well I guess if it was raised once then that settles that, but how many repetitions is it that advertisers say are required before their message starts to get through?
The Annual Report looks back, but it leads to where we are today and where we will be tomorrow if we don’t change course.
And how many citizens can fit in the new Annex meeting room, especially if lots of staff show up? And even though many of Nanaimo’s citizens are retired like you and I, the majority are still working or elsewhere occupied at 4:30 in the afternoon. They are not free to attend as you and I.
To me putting cameras in the New Annex is a no brainer and should be looked at by council as a win/win for them if they do choose to do this. Win/Win you may ask? If they vote for it it is a win in that they can say they want more transparency. In the event they choose to and no one or very few watch the videos they win because nothing will really have changed.
I imagine, that faced with cameras, this bunch will dummy-up as much as they do at regular council meetings.
I’m beginning to think it takes a certain kind of masochist to keep watching city council decide the fate of our city. It truly is a painful exercise.