Tuned In But Turned Off

by Melissa Brunner

Marques White does a great job covering Topeka City Council meetings for us every Tuesday night, but Ralph and I like to tune in from the newsroom, too, so we can follow the discussions and votes. Last night, knowing the scrap metal incident was going to be discussed, we came out of the studio after the 6pm news and turned to City Channel 4 to join the meeting in progress.

Finally, John Alcala motions to go into a committee of the whole to discuss subpoenaing the documents concerned in the city's investigation. The council approves the motion and Deputy Mayor Deborah Swank takes over the meeting. She no sooner announces that this is an open meeting than a slate comes up the screen saying "Committee of the Whole." No picture of the council, no sound of what they're saying. What?

I immediately called city spokesperson Dave Bevens, thinking maybe he could get them to flip the switch. He says that since they convened into committee of the whole, it was not actually a part of the regular council meeting and, since committee meetings aren't televised, this was not televised. The council work sessions which take place in the same location immediately before the regular meeting aren't televised either, he gave me as an example.

I suppose I can appreciate the predicament. My first thought is that all the people were there to have this be televised. Because they were going to come back into the regular council meeting at any time (they had not adjourned), the City Channel 4 staff couldn't leave and, I would think, didn't clock out. Since they were there, why not televise the committee of the whole? The consideration for the city, though, is when to make an exception to their policy on what is and is not televised. The staff might have been there for this instance, but what about other meetings where you would have to call people in early or on overtime, adding an expense for the city?

When the council came back into regular session, the mayor asked for a motion to adjourn, but credit Sylvia Ortiz for quickly jumping in to acknowledge what they'd just done hadn't been televised and asking Deputy Mayor Swank to give a report on what had transpired, i.e. that they'd asked city officials to produce all documents related to the investigation of the scrap metal incident by next Tuesday. What do you think? Would it have been worth sliding down the slippery slope for this instance and televising the committee of the whole? Or do you think it was okay to pull the plug on this portion of the activities because of the policies?


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