Thursday, January 3, 2008

What's Next?

Cruising around the Flemington website, the last week in December to my surprise I learned that this year Boro council meetings will be broadcast via our website.

In this day of “Tivo “ this and “Tivo” that and Podcasts and ipods, we are accustomed to watching or listening to what we want when we find the time. And that convenience in these hectic days surely has its merits. But, on the one hand as Heisenberg notes, deliberately observing the process changes the process. Hence there has been much ado about the wisdom of televising court proceedings. Not knowing who is observing them may discourage residents from speaking their minds. We live in a very small borough. There is no anonymity as there is in Congress with its televised broadcasts. It may on the flipside invite grandstanding. On another hand, Boro hall is no more than five minutes from anywhere in the Boro and interested parties can go to council meetings, express their views, ask their questions and discuss Boro business with council members, personally. Not possible when relying on a broadcast. On still another hand, watching broadcasts may invite more interest and increase attendance at Boro council meetings. Boro residents, observing Boro council operating with full transparency, will inform the citizenry and the citizens ought to see to it they are informed because actions taken by council members are predicated on the consent of those they govern, basic John Locke and the contract between the governed and those who govern them. We are entitled to be sure council is doing what we want it to do because the power to govern in Flemington, America comes from the consent of the people. Given the nature of this broadcast issue, so very discretionary, it might have been nice to see what the residents thought about nudging our Boro into a more technological, no- holds- barred venue. After all some residents like the bit of respite Flemington offers from the hustle of the technological age and settle here for that benefit, small town life and goings on. Years ago we voted on the color of our Christmas lights, red and green vs. all white as we prepared to decorate our little hamlet. The traditional red and green won out. We are like this in little Flemington, personal, but we are open to the new and exciting too.

When I asked my still councilman husband about this new broadcast development and how it came to be and what other members of council thought, he advised me that the issue of broadcasting meetings, its pros or cons, were never brought to Boro council during his tenure. So broadcasting Boro council meetings was just set up and announced on the website with no discussion on Boro council. This I do not understand.

Stay tuned.


Anonymous Flemingtonian said...

First you don't want to give people the choice between two candidates and now you don't want people to have access to watching council meetings live? Flemington is a diverse community. Some of us are in wheelchairs and can't even get into Borough Hall to see a meetings. Some of us are single parents who can't afford a babysitter to go to a meetings. Some of us work second jobs at night to make ends meet and can't attend a meeting. Some of us don't have cars and the weather may be too bad to walk. I think it is a great idea to have council meetings available on the website.

I also think the Courier News should rethink its choice of a blogger to find someone who doesn't have so obvious a personal and political agenda to promote.

Courier News Flemington blog said...

Sorry, Anonymous, you are way out of line here. I have taken no position on broadcasting. I undertook some of the discussion that should have occurred on Boro council. I take strong exception to any council members acting unilaterally, changing Boro council meetings with no input from council members discussed in public, no matter their political affiliation. Re: partisanship, I have never indicated which political party member undertook this action. Ironically, it makes little sense to attend council meetings or watch podcasts if actions undertaken by council members are not made available for public scrutiny. And then there is the general matter of courtesy to your fellow council members. I believe there are courtesies and protocols to be followed as a council member to avoid unnecessary tension.

I attended the first broadcast last night. It certainly was a different meeting and I left wondering if Heisenberg is not absolutely on the money, observing changes the process. I left with the concern that campaigning will now be a year- long process brought into Boro council meetings. And, Anonymous, in America this is what the press does. It observes and comments on actions taken by political figures who of their own free will put themselves in the public eye. Have you taken any notice of the presidential primaries lately? You seem to see this recent post as an assault on the local Democrats. Hence, your lopsided response. But that brings me to this point---every time that someone questions any Democrat behavior, perceived Democrat behavior or does something that a Democrat does not like, writes something or runs a campaign not up to Democrat standards, they are demonized and the “Dems” are treated so unfairly, yada, yada, yada. Well, we all don’t have to think the way Democrats do. It is a 2 party system here in the US. Our democracy is predicated on public discussion and diverse viewpoints. We do not have to be obedient to the collective “Democrat” will. We are not demons if we think and do differently. Talk about trying to put people in straight jackets or controlling people.

Regarding the handicapped, you evidently do not know I have been handicapped for years and just undergone surgery the finally permits me to sit at council meetings among other things. I have understanding for those who may not be able to attend. Read the piece.

MediumPetey said...

As Ronald Reagan would say ,“There you go again.”

You really need to get over yourself.

First of all, Linda is a member of the Democratic Party, not the “Democrat Party”. I know how you folks like to get that wrong, but use the correct terms. Linda is a Democrat, a member of the Democratic Party. Got it?

Next, Heisenberg never noted, “deliberately observing the process changes the process”, or anything of the sort. Cite your sources. Get your facts straight.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle [if that is what you’re trying to imply] has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not an observation is ‘deliberate’ or not, or any impact on ‘process’. “Process” and “observation” are not the two criteria in the definition of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle at all. I know you like to stretch and twist and turn your references so that they finally fit your point. At least be intellectually honest.

The principle from quantum physics states that “the statement that locating a particle in a small region makes the momentum of the particle uncertain, and conversely, measuring the momentum of a particle precisely makes the position uncertain.” Your generously borrowing from quantum physics does not make your analogy correct or useful. It would be good for you to get over your pseudo-intellectualism.

Next, your assertion that ‘there has been much ado about the wisdom of televising court proceedings” has nothing to do whatsoever with televising public meetings, covered by the Open Public Meetings Act. Court proceedings may or may not be televised depending upon the decision of the judge in the matter, with a fair trial being the criteria. In open public meetings covered by the OPRA and OPMA, the right of the public to know trumps privacy rights. And, besides, if someone comes to speak at a meeting, it is required that a name and address be made part of the record, so there is no anonymity.

Next: The televising of meetings over the web and the archiving thereof is nothing more than a more complete and technologically advanced way of putting information up on the webpage. It’s like announcing an event like Music on Main or leaf pick up day or the holiday parade. Do you really want Council’s time to be burdened to vote on each piece of information that goes up on the website? Is that the way you wish Council’s time spent? The webcast is not a legal record of the meeting ---such as meeting minutes, which statutorily do require a vote. No vote is required to place the meetings on the web. Once again, you make a point where there is no point.

Finally, your husband is no longer a Councilman. His term ended on December 31st, 2007. He is not your “still Councilman husband” any longer. Get over it. He lost. Had he been the better candidate, he would have won. He didn’t. Finito.

This bucolic picture perfect setting of Flemington you call upon each and every blog is all very nice. But you should not be using it to continually craft narrow minded arguments against more open government, against running candidates in a true democracy, and against creative progressive ideas.

Once again, get over yourself.

Brooke Liebowitz said...

Televising council meetings over the website WAS discussed by Council via email on December 28th. As I had already updated my council email list to include Linda, Phil was no longer on my email list.

I sent an email to Council asking, with "council permission" (quoting from my email of the 28th) if we could start recording meetings at the reorganization meeting. The mayor responded to me with a concern about how it affect the security of our network and the cost. I responded that the webcam was completely separate from our the borough hall computer network, and thus secure, and the cost to set it up was around $80. No one else on Council had any objections or comments so we moved forward to experiment with the technology at last night's reorganization meeting.

So yes, it was discussed by Council and no, I did not unilaterally change Council meetings without input from my fellow council members. I don't operate that way.

Please don't make assumptions without asking before attacking. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you have any questions about any of my actions you are always welcome to contact me first.

I have gone out of my way to play peacemaker and be bipartisan and open and honest with all my actions I have undertaken on Council. If anything, the chief criticism I hear about myself is that I'm too nice. And I'm fine with that. I like being nice. I teach my two little boys to be kind, to be honest, and to be fair. I'm proud that everything I've done on Council has been done with keeping this mind to set an example to my children. You may not always agree with me, but I try my hardest to always do the right thing. The only thing I'm guilty of here is that I updated my council email list four days too early. Sorry.

I also want to add that my inbox was overflowing this morning with more than a dozen messages on how great it is to watch council meetings. Over 60 people watched the reorganization meeting last night. I'm thrilled with the response of the people of Flemington to this idea. If you would like a public discussion about the idea, you're welcome to come to the next meeting and voice your complaints there. I'm always more than happy to hear from people about the job they think I'm doing.

Bob said...

Joan, I'm glad you were able to tune in. And the same goes for all the 60 who've watched the re-broadcast so far, and the 7 who watched it live, before it was even announced to the public.

I am proud of being the computer geek who worked with the Democratic leadership to make this possible. The Democrats campaigned on a platform of bringing more openness and transparency to local government, and that is exactly what we did -- from the very first minute of Democratic majority.

This is not a case of Democrats taping Republicans. This is a case of the Borough taping its elected officials of both parties. You're concerned that some may grandstand? Let this be a warning to ALL of them: if you use the council chamber to be a BS artist, demagogue, crook, liar or jerk, the people will know. If you show up unprepared and uninformed, the people will know. But if you use the chamber to be a champion and serve the public, people will know that, also.

You also expressed concern that people cannot interact with the council during the live broadcasts. You'll be happy to know that it's possible to use a chat window for exactly that purpose, if the council wants to allow that. It simply requires the computer operator in the chamber to read the questions aloud and to type a response.

Don't fear change, embrace it! This helps bring Flemington into the 21st Century, as many other towns have already done.

In the words of Benjamin Disraeli: "In a progressive country, change is constant; change is inevitable."

Bob Flisser
Software School, Inc.

Betsy said...

My my, don't be such a Luddite, Mrs. Greiner.

Change is good; technology is good and is your friend. Embrace it.

Transparency and openness in government is never a bad thing. It can't be as it is the very root of democracy. The current Council recognizes this and immediately did something about it instead of pushing it off the table.

Much ado about televising court proceedings?


Any facts to support that claim or is it another one of your imagined facts? As a television journalist who has in the past served as a major market camera-in-court coordinator, I can assure you that many on the judicial bench welcome cameras as it keeps everyone honest and benefits both the bench and the public. That's why all 50 states allow some level of audiovisual coverage of judicial proceedings. Forty three states now allow coverage of trials. If there are objections (almost always by the defense), the judge can rule on it and deny the camera. There are claims that witnesses may feel intimidated (your same argument) yet those fears have yet to be borne out in the two decades or so electronic coverage has been taking place. In my own experience, if a witness is fearful the judge will often order the camera to be either turned off or their focus averted away from the witness. Some judges however will insist that certain camera angles be avoided because they don't like the way they look in profile or head-on. That was often a frequent request I would get.

What anonyminity in Congress do you speak of? I know of none - either on the side of witnesses testifying (with very rare exceptions) or on the part of legislators. Is this another made-up fact?

If being truly on the public record makes someone fearful of speaking at council meetings, it is not the fault of the council nor the plastic camera sitting on a table. Proceedings and testimony must remain public and the webcasting simply adds another dimension to what is public information. In a public venue, no one has any reasonable expectation of privacy - none; it simply doesn't exist under the laws of our grand nation.

Had cameras not been allowed in the OJ trial, chances are the American public would never have known how much of a farce that trial really was. Reading a print story is one thing but actually seeing and hearing it puts things into a brand new light as we've seen time and time again.

You write in a reply to anonymous, "I left with the concern that campaigning will now be a year- long process brought into Boro council meetings."

How very strange. I attended the same meeting in person and saw no such thing. Well, let me take that back. I saw the Republican Mayor possibly try to oversteps his authority when it came to committee assignments. I'm glad the issue was tabled at the request of the Democratic majority.

You seem to forget that the council meetings being public and being held in a public facility are open to anyone and as such, may be electronically recorded. There is absolutely nothing that could allow the council to block a private citizen who wanted to openly record the sessions. Any blockage of it would be a gross violation of the first amendment.(*I'm a real journalist remember? Working at a real television network that doesn't begin with the letter F. In years past, I've worked in markets big and small and am used to podunk town and borough councils trying to block access. Those efforts never succeed.) Now with that in mind, would you prefer the borough webcast their meetings on their own site or would you prefer to see them on my site - an area the council would have no control over.

It's unfortunate you continue to have a bone to pick with the current Democratic majority on council but really, isn't it time to just move on?

I personally would like to congratulate the Flemington Bourough Council on moving itself a little more into the 21st century by opening up their meetings to more the public who wish to observe the proceedings.


P.S. Re: We are like this in little Flemington, personal, but we are open to the new and exciting too.

Please please please stop trying to sound like you speak for all citizens in the borough when you clearly do not.

Linda in NJ said...

The web video is wonderful. Brooke Leibowitz and Bob Flisser took time from their busy schedules to make this a reality. And Bob didn't even charge for his very valuable time. Flemington owes him so much.

Last night, even though my mother lives 1500 miles away, she was able to see me sworn in to Council and got to watch me cast my first votes. Knowing she was there, and that the rest of my family was present in the room was very emotional.

It's too bad she also saw the ugly side of the partisanship Joan decries. Yet she is silent on that. Hmm... Even my 12 year old niece recognized bad behavior when she saw it.

I'm glad it is all on the web (It's not tape, and I am too old to know what to call it!!). Thank you Brooke and Bob. Magnificent job!!

Linda Mastellone

Courier News Flemington blog said...

To Brooke and Everyone,

Thank you for your comments and interest. I appreciate the care and effort posters generally put forth here in the discussions.

Well, Brooke and everyone, herein is the problem...the announcement to podcast was posted several days prior to December 31. I saw it on the website myself after Christmas and asked Phil about it while he was still on council. I think he was a reliable source here, given the annoucement was posted in
2007. I wondered when the decision had been made, since he had never mentioned it and I wondered what others thought about it. Councilwoman Brooke Liebowitz has informed us that she deleted councilman Phil Greiner from her e mail list before his term expired while she was discussing council business with other members of Boro council, omitting him from the discussion. Is that even legal? Do not fault me for not knowing about this e mail deletion.

Had Brooke not deleted him, we would have realized what she was doing. Her mistake here is the error that is at the root of Phil's contention that the podcast was not discussed at Boro council and it was not, nor was he informed and he should have been. Phil was still a councilman and not informed he was no longer in the loop. Brooke knowingly deleted him from a debate that protocol and courtesy and perhaps the law would dictate he be included in. There is no excuse for this.

If this podcast thing had happened after his tenure, I would have looked for other sources on this piece, talked to other council members before I went forward. How could I know a council woman was conducting council business and excluding him? I assume that council members are discussing council business with ALL current sitting council members. There are protocols that are followed and if done, they avert these kinds of problems. So I have a hard time sympathizing with people's negative reactions to all this. Brooke was key in deleting certain info that should have still come across Phil's desk that would have prevented this post from going up. If I am mistaken in my reading of this, my error is the consequence of Brooke's actions. I certainly will not assume blame for the errors she invited. There are valid points here beyond how I am mean to Democrats. Council business should be handled more prudently.

I could not imagine such a breach of protocol. Being left in the dark here through her actions with respect to Phil, I concluded that Brooke as a council member acted unilaterally to set up the podcast. The expectation that I run around after council members, run to council meetings double checking on whether or not council members are following the appropriate protocols is unreasonable. I pretty much assume council members are observing the appropriate protocols.

The support system and technical people are not the issue. Broadcasting is not the issue for me. How this came about is the issue for me. I did not cite Brooke specifically on this in my post out of courtesy to her. Only a few people in the inner circle would probably know who I was referring to. It is her decision to make herself known.

I do have considerable objections to council members acting unilaterally.I think many would have similar objections had they believed a council member acted unilaterally. I have written about the importance of observing courtesy and respect on this blog site more than once because I believe that is crucial in preventing problems like this. When the appropriate courtesies and protocols are not observed, bad things happen and people get hurt. Had this podcast issue been discussed at Boro council as I had argued for, there too would have been no misunderstandings. Open discussion and transparency protects us all.

One lesson here is that council business needs to follow standard operating procedure, no short cuts. There should be no discretionary decisions to cut members out.If someone is on council, he is in the loop until he is off council because unnecessary problems like this can arise.

Finally,I truly cannot imagine any council member wanting to be treated this way. I do not care about what political party they espouse.

Brooke Liebowitz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.