Put a TV camera in front of public officials, elected or not, and behavior can change a little.
How could it not? After all, who doesn’t stand taller or smile broader when the in-laws have the camera out during the holidays?
The best examples of what a TV camera can do are those C-SPAN channels on cable TV. There it is commonplace to capture members of Congress going on as if the entire House or Senate chamber is loaded with colleagues hanging on every syllable. In fact, the chambers are usually empty.
In that regard, it’s not hard to imagine that meetings of the nine-member Cedar Rapids City Council, which routinely now stretch to three and a half or even four hours, might run a little shorter but for the TV camera.
If you didn’t know, the council meetings are taped for rebroadcast on the local cable channel, and because it is a delayed broadcast, council members and city officials can go home and watch themselves the next night.
It’s never been very clear if many residents actually watch the council meeting rebroadcasts, and the times The Gazette has tried to poll people, typically only a few percent say they ever watch the things with any frequency.
In any event, the phenomenon of the camera might be a little bit what council member Monica Vernon was getting at Wednesday evening during a presentation from City Manager Jim Prosser’s staff and one of the city’s flood-recovery consultants, the Institute of Building Technology and Safety, Herndon, Va.
The IBTS brought three different representatives to the microphone to talk about what the non-profit organization is and does. The group talked about their work in other disasters and complimented the city of Cedar Rapids for how well it was doing in coming to grips with its flood disaster.
Then Vernon started in, saying, “I hate to rain on your parade,” adding she didn’t quite understand what the presentation was intended to accomplish.
Vernon said she didn’t have time to listen to a presentation about the IBTS’s resume. She said she wanted to know this: “What have you done for the city of Cedar Rapids?”
Why was the intent of the presentation? she added. What about the pitch required council discussion or council action?
Vernon said she was sure “these are nice people,” but she said meetings of a part-time council in a time of disaster recovery are times to discuss important matters.
“I’m losing my patience with (presentations) that take 30 minutes that are basically dog-and-pony shows,” she said.
It should be a good TV rebroadcast.
As interesting in this discussion were comments from council member Justin Shields, who also was a bit perplexed about just what IBTS is doing for the city and just when the council signed on with the group.
Christine Butterfield, the city’s community development director, noted that the council had approved a year-long contract with IBTS in July.
At the lead of a couple of council members, City Manager Jim Prosser explained that the consulting group is helping the city handle the high volume of traffic in the city’s building and permitting operation that comes with rebuilding after a disaster.
One thing these meeting presentations never mention — and no one on the council ever asks about — is the cost.
According to city records, the council approved a one-year contract on July 16 with IBTS for $911,716.
The contract was an item on the council’s consent agenda, the part of the agenda which the council approves without public discussion.