While visiting Maine two weeks ago, NA Confidential watched as the Windham town council held its regular weekly meeting.
Because the meeting was televised live over the area’s cable access channel, there was no need for citizens to brave the wintry elements in order to observe the council’s workings. The telecast came in the form of a split screen incorporating two camera angles that showed the entire meeting room and remained “live” from start to finish.
At the most recent New Albany City Council meeting on February 7, a long-running topic again was broached with reference to videotaping the council’s meetings.
Going back several months, local resident Valla Ann Bolovschak has undertaken to absorb the expense of professionally recording the council meetings with the concurrent idea that they be broadcast on the television arm of New Albany High School’s WNAS, which can be seen on Insight’s cable channel 25.
Quite predictably, and regrettably, discussions of this phenomenon have tended to digress into political considerations, both real and imagined.
What are Valla Ann’s political motives? Did City Council President Jeff Gahan apply pressure to the Superintendent of schools to prevent transmission of the videotapes? Does someone wish to keep governmental workings a secret? Is the Mayor part of this vast conspiracy? Who are the heroes, and who are the villains?
Quite frankly, NA Confidential finds these questions tedious, misplaced and utterly reminiscent of junior high school dating intrigue.
What we would like to know, while confessing from the outset that we don’t have an answer to the question, is this:
Given the organizational basis of the various entities involved, are there compelling reasons for the school corporation to agree to broadcast the videotaped city council meetings?
According to the FCC, the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation is the licensee of WNAS.
According to the “Code of Ordinances for the City of New Albany, Title XI, Chapter 113 – Cable Television System,” the chosen cable provider (Insight) has several obligations, among them this:
§ 113.10 SERVICE TO MUNICIPAL BUILDINGS AND SCHOOLS.
(B) The company shall reserve one channel for use by public and parochial elementary, secondary and college level schools.
And, according to Karen Stokes of Insight Communications:
“Educational Access (Ch. 25) is the Community Access channel for your area.”
The following explanation of “community access” comes from the web site of Fair Lawn Creative Cable Community Access Television in the borough of Fair Lawn, New Jersey:
“Both the Cable Acts of 1984 and 1992 permit local governments to include and enforce requirements for PEG (i.e., public, government and educational use) access equipment, facilities, services, and support in a franchise.
“Access can be subdivided into public access, educational access and government access. The term "PEG access" is called "public, educational, and government use" under the Cable Act.
“Public access consists of video programming and other electronic information produced, directed, and engineered by community volunteers. (For convenience, all types of information carried on PEG channels will be referred to as "programming," although PEG channels are used to carry video information, data, video text, and voice communications.) In the case of public access, the programming is developed or acquired by nonprofit community groups, neighborhood organizations, social service agencies, and individual citizens. It focuses on many aspects of community life, ranging from the services and activities of community organizations to the opinions and beliefs of individuals in the community.
“Educational access is developed or acquired by school or college employees, students, and school volunteers. It typically focuses on distance learning, school activities, and information that the school/college wants to get out to the community or share among schools.
“Government access is created or acquired by local government employees, elected officials, and volunteers. It typically focuses on information about services provided by local, State, and regional governments, issues faced by local governments, and public meeting coverage. Government access is also used for other purposes, such as providing training to City employees or exchanging information between City agencies and other institutions.”
Now, it would appear that according to an ordinance authored by a previous City Council, New Albany has chosen the educational access option, and in this case, the option is exercised by WNAS, which is licensed through the school corporation and not directly through the city of New Albany.
On the surface, none of this would seem to have anything to do with the City Council or its meetings, videotaped or otherwise.
We return to the original question:
Are there compelling reasons for the school corporation to agree to broadcast the videotaped city council meetings on its television station?
City Council meetings are but one element of local government, so what of County Council meetings and Board of Public Works and Safety meetings, just to name two?
Why broadcast one but not the others?
Is there money available to begin doing this in a taxpayer-supported, comprehensive fashion?
If not, who pays to videotape which meeting?
Furthermore, who actually “owns” the information on the videotapes if they are financed by the private sector and not the public sector?
Taking all this into consideration, how, then, does the school corporation decide what to broadcast and what not to broadcast if some meetings are financed by the private sector and others aren’t?
There certainly seem to be many more questions than answers, and the questions seem to suggest far more in the way of complexity than simply reducing the story to one of heroes vs. villains, or of whistle-blowers and bureaucrats ducking and covering.
The governing ordinance clearly states that New Albany’s community cable access is to be in the form of educational, not governmental, programming.
Given the absence of any legal obligation according to the prevailing code or any obvious mandate to do so, what is there to be gained by the school corporation becoming involved with any of this, especially since there remains at least the possibility that such involvement might be construed as politically partisan in nature?
Our comments today are not intended to attack or defend any single person involved with the ongoing discussion of City Council meetings and the videotaping of them by private citizens. They are, however, an attempt to identify some of the core issues involved with the discussion.
What have we missed here? Please let us know.