A citizen victory on county transparency
Kudos to Freeholders Richard Vohden and Phil Crabb who have waged an often lonely battle for transparency at the Freeholder Board meetings. And to citizen activists Harvey Roseff, Councilwoman Dawn Fantasia, Nathan Orr, Kathy Gorman, Ann Smulewitcz, Michele Guttenberger, Kenneth Collins, among others, who have loudly insisted on county board transparency. To the New Jersey Herald and Straus News for their coverage of the fight for transparency. And to Freeholder Jonathan Rose for finally coming home and doing something about it.
We had faith in Freeholder Rose and we are glad that he finally challenged Freeholder boss George Graham on transparency. The Herald carried Freeholder Rose's proposal on transparency in its opinion column today:
By a 3-2 vote, the Sussex County freeholders last week rejected a proposal to have their regular meetings videotaped.
Though on the surface their action was disappointing, citizens seeking a more transparent county government should not be dismayed.
...Freeholder Jonathan Rose confirmed late last week that a resolution is being prepared that would have a camera, already owned by the county, set up in the freeholder meeting room to record regular meetings. The video would be tied into the already set-up audio system.
...He intends the recording to be as clean as possible, the only editing to be inserting text of the meeting date and county seal, and if the camera is turned off during recesses or for other reasons. The recording would not be up for any Oscars; no close-ups or zoom-ins would be provided. Rose said that is preferred, as anything beyond the stagnant image may be interpreted as manipulating the recording or injecting bias.
The video would be what one would see if one were standing at the back of the freeholder meeting room.
...The freeholders should put any politicking and posturing aside, approve the resolution next week, and get a good start to a more transparent new year.
Next up: Changing the 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. meeting times, which are not at all convenient for public attendance and participation.
Harvey Roseff expressed the concerns of many when he commented on the Herald's opinion column:
"This won't work for the public good. It's but again a backroom maneuver, now to save face and continue the pretense of transparency. It follows the dark spirit of Counsel Williams attempt last week to keep Freeholder meeting video records outside of the county controlled OPRA process.
...SECTV is a long lived, HIGHLY CAPABLE, FOCUSED media company that provides FREE live streaming capability, serves a broad audience and can deliver a DVD for the County to archive and post to internet. By law, it must provide this service free to citizens who granted it a monopoly. The internal service Freeholders Graham and Rose now promote has never delivered live streaming, is not focused on media delivery and bills the taxpayer even when failing to deliver old technology, simple audio recordings. Maybe the NJ Herald should team with SECTV and drive eyeballs to its website."
Ann Smulewicz added her thoughts:
"Graham, Lazzaro and Rose have made their positions on keeping the public in the dark known by the way they voted. Ms. Dawn Fantasia has provided evidence that the public has a right to video. It appears that there is an effort to do that. Graham, Lazzaro and Rose have shown they are not trustworthy to be involved in video taping of Freeholder meetings. I'm in favor of the group that is responding to the public's call for transparency to be in charge of the video taping, hopefully in concert with Service Electric Cable, to make the freeholder meetings available to the public.
Thank you Freeholders Crabb and Vohden for your efforts to 'drain the swamp'."
SussexCounty.News is planning to videotape the Freeholder Board meetings as well. This redundancy will work in the public's favor, because the static recording provided by Freeholder Rose will supply an important benchmark that will allow the SussexCounty.News reporter to interview citizens who make the time to attend these meetings for their perspectives. This layering of perspectives -- reporting by traditional media like the Herald and Straus News, Freeholder Rose's static recording, and SussexCounty.News' video plus citizen commentary on the meeting -- will create a very open and accessible Board.
Just one thing is missing and we agree with Harvey Roseff on this -- put it on cable TV so that the maximum number of people can see it. As Roseff points out, it is free and it is usual and customary in towns everywhere in America and in democracies across the globe. Why not in Sussex County?