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Let’s Open More Doors at City Hall [OPINION]

Sioux Falls City Council
Beth Warden/Results Radio

The Sioux Falls City Council mandate requiring parks board meetings to be recorded and put online does not go far enough.

Let’s back up a step or two and look at the bigger picture. City Council and Planning Commission meetings are broadcast live and then archived. This has been going on for decades. As mayor of Sioux Falls from 1974-84, I implemented live broadcasts of City Commission meetings. It is now standard operating procedure in most local governments nationwide.

If we are going for true transparency, then let’s broadcast the parks board meetings live. Let’s add live broadcasts of a few other city boards, such as Library, Health, Metro Communications. Each of these boards spend public money and implement policy.

I suggest the administration and City Council create a five year plan to allow for the live airing of as many city board meetings as possible. I think there are two locations within city government where live broadcasts can occur: Carnegie Town Hall and the City Link Studios on Phillips Ave. It shouldn’t be too hard to move these board meetings to those locations. Some adjustments in the meeting space for lighting and microphones may be necessary, but certainly not financially prohibitive.

For comparison purposes, several state government boards and commissions are now seeking help from South Dakota Public Broadcasting to air their meetings live. It is a great service to the public.

I understand there may be some hesitancy on the part of citizen board members to talk openly in front of cameras and microphones. I admit to having the same problem when I started as mayor. However, after a meeting or two the hesitancy went away and we conducted the public’s business without any problems.  Actually the camera and microphone can be your “friend.”  You stay on subject, others do the same, and if someone questions you after the fact you have a record of exactly what was said and done and the tone of it also. A win for everybody.

Some in city government and some citizen board members may think this action is punitive, or that we don’t trust them. I am NOT coming at it from that perspective.

Most of the time city government has a good story to tell. Giving more citizens access to that good story,  builds confidence and trust. Something we desperately need at all levels.

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