The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Vernon’s impatience begs the question: Do CR council meetings make for quality TV?

In City Hall, Floods, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon on August 21, 2008 at 6:52 pm

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.

  1. Mc. Veronon correctly points out that it is often a waste of time to see the “dog and pony show” presentations that should be done far more concisely and to staff rather than the whole council.

    Having said that, any concerns about whether meetings should be televised are unwarranted. Yes, everyone puts their sunday best on and smiles brightly for the cameras when its their turn to shine on a cable rebroadcast, but what is far more troubling is what turning the camera off would hide.

    I’m sure Ms. Vernon and a few others do not like having a video recording of their attendance record. Furthermore, it saddens me that the cameras cannot follow the council and the staff 24/7 so that they could at least act like they care what the residents of this community need and treat them as customers instead of royal subjects.

  2. I concur with many of the items Taxpayer stated. I wish the cameras were at the “meeting before/after” the City Council meeting where the real discussions and decisions are made.

  3. I once went to a council meeting and addressed the council members. It wasn’t until a week after the fact that I even knew this sort of thing existed. I like the idea of having the video and the public having access to the video. I don’t think that it is worth the extra money to have it televised. I have yet to find it on. If you are concerned about it immediately, I suggest going down there to watch it in person. You can see all the people that are there, and TAKE PART in the conversations before and after. What good is it really doing if you see it the day after? If you want to know what’s going on, go ahead and check it out. And if you want to see it on TV, pay to have a DVD copied for yourself.

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