Mayor-elect Sandy Roberson said one of his top priorities as Rocky Mount’s chief executive is going to be to have the municipal government broadcast live the meetings of the City Council as well as meetings of the city boards and commissions.
“I do think it’s important,” Roberson told the Telegram. “I would like to move forward on that as quickly as possible.”
Roberson is not the only voice calling for the meetings at City Hall to be aired in real time.
Ward 5 Councilman-elect Lige Daughtridge told the Telegram he also wants to move on it as soon as possible.
Roberson said he would like to first familiarize himself a bit about the details of policies in existence relative to the subject matter to see what the municipal government would have to do.
“But on balance I think that there’s nothing but positive things that can happen when you publicize, when you actually show the meetings taking place,” Roberson said.
Additionally, Roberson said he is quite aware there are local residents who keep track of municipal government via print media or printed documents and might have physical challenges keeping them from attending the meetings yet might have a cell phone or a computer.
He also is quite aware of working people who do not have the time to take out from their schedules or shifts to attend the meetings.
“Anytime you can create access, anytime you can create additional information, information flow, it’s a powerful thing,” he said.
He was asked about whether the municipal government can find the money to make sure the meetings can be televised.
He specifically was asked this given Rocky Mount has a $48 million event center and the municipal government is working with a Tennessee-based developer on having a hotel, parking garage and mixed-use complex built adjacent to the event center.
“I don’t disagree,” Roberson said. “I mean, I don’t disagree with you. It just makes sense. And why wouldn’t you do it?
“I mean, we are allowing a local blogger to film it and put it out there online at some point,” Roberson said, a reference to activist and videographer Curmilus Dancy II. “I mean, that happens on a fairly regular basis.
“So what’s the difference between that and taking the film and putting it out there live for everybody to see?” he asked.
Local television station WHIG airs delayed video of council meetings and a local resident, Theresa Alston Stokes, from a seat in the audience, uses a cell phone to video the meetings in real time on her Facebook page.
Daughtridge told the Telegram he believes that complete transparency is vital to ensure the public trust and that local residents and the news media have access to all public information.
“All meetings are open to the public and should be transmitted live and recorded for on-demand viewing, because if you give the appearance that you’re trying to hide something, then people are going to think and believe there are nefarious things going on, when actually it’s just the business at hand,” Daughtridge said.
Daughtridge also said he believes the municipal government will have to do a better job serving people with certain disabilities, such as hearing or visual impairments.
“And I think we don’t do a good job for the people that go to the meetings and want to be involved and engaged,” he said. “Oftentimes, they can’t hear the meetings.”
He said although there is an overhead projector on the left side of the council chambers, “Well, why can’t we have TVs up so people can see the presentations as they’re given?”
The Telegram asked the city’s Communications and Marketing Department via email about whether the municipal government plans to, at some point, televise the meetings of the council and of boards and commissions and, if so, to provide a timeline.
No official statement has been received in response to the email, which also was copied to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.
Now-former city chief spokeswoman Tameka Kenan-Norman in July told the Telegram that before videotaping the council meetings and various board and commission meetings, she and her team would like approval and agreement by all council members and board and committee members respectively.
There is nothing in state Open Records Law requiring prior consent of a public official to audio- or video-record him or her conducting business at a public meeting.
Kenan-Norman in July also said videoing council meetings would require additional resources, including funding and staff.
The Communications and Marketing Department has three staffers, including a videographer.