Council votes against broadcasting meetings

Jun 26, 2013

Apparently, a majority of the members of the Greenville City Council were not ready for their close-up, as they voted Tuesday against spending money for the video streaming of meetings.

While the amount in question was not large, the debate on the issue focused on the expenditure’s impact on the upcoming city budget and the possible loss of city employees. The Council was scheduled Tuesday to vote on a proposed ordinance calling for the purchase of video software and equipment with Rushworks Automation and Production Systems, as well as an annual maintenance agreement.

Interim City Manager/Director of Public Works Massoud Ebrahim said the city had received a proposal from the company, with a total price of $30,361 for the equipment and software and $2,263 per year for the annual maintenance agreement. “The item is the cost for the system which will be installed permanently in the Council chamber,” Ebrahim said, adding that the equipment could be used to either record all government meetings in the chamber, or present them live on television or the Internet, depending on what the city’s two cable television providers — GEUS and Time-Warner — wanted to do.

Ebrahim said the money for the first year of the operation would come out of the $2.4 million in certificates of obligation the Council approved earlier this year. Council member Velma Del Bosque-Hobdy asked whether the maintenance fee was being included in the upcoming fiscal year’s budget. “I just didn’t want to see that later on, and I did not want to push this burden on any later Council members,” she said. “We have a lot of challenges in our budget,” Ebrahim said. “By July 25 we are going to give you a budget.” Council member Renee Francey asked if any city positions currently open would not be filled in the proposed budget. “We are holding a lot of the positions, in all departments, except fire and police,” Ebrahim said. “We are asking people to be more efficient.”

One of the challenges which Ebrahim said he was facing was having to come up with $84,000 a year to refund some $2.7 million in sales tax revenue to the State of Texas. Francey said the $30,000 might be better spent. “It may not be a practical purchase at this time, if we have 10 positions that are not getting filled,” Francey said. Council member James Evans said he recently met with the Employee Benefit Committee and heard about how the city’s employees are having to deal with the rising cost of insurance premiums. “There are other things we need in this city,” Evans said. “I’d like to see the streets taken care of. If we had the money, I would see no problem at all.”

Council member Dan Perkins on the other hand said the issue had come up multiple times in the past and had been voted down each time. “I think it is really important,” Perkins said, arguing the video feeds would help improve communication with the public. “This way everyone can see everything you do. It will be totally transparent.” “I think it is just bad timing,” countered Mayor Steve Reid. “I think there’s better places to spend the money.”

Council member Jeff Dailey said he had concerns about spending the money for a non-emergency issue, but “I continue to be in favor of an open and transparent Council.” Dailey agreed televising the meetings would allow more citizens to have access to the workings of city government. “They need to have the confidence to know what we are doing is right and open,” Dailey said. However, the measure was defeated on a 4-3 vote, with Reid, Evans, Francey and Sandra Linson-Bell voting against.