The broadcast of Herkimer County Legislature meetings was discontinued in May.
The meetings had been recorded by faculty and students at Herkimer County Community College for the past 15 years or so, and later were aired on Time Warner Cable’s public access channel 99.
HCCC President Dr. Ann Marie Murray said the taped telecast was halted due to financial and management issues, as well as a lack of student availability, particularly in the summer.
“We really can’t afford to do that anymore,” said Murray.
With the legislature voting to approve the college’s 2012 - 2013 budget on Wednesday night, some lawmakers used their time during floor debate to say the public has a right to the taped telecasts.
“Democracy can be messy, but it’s important that we have public debate,” said Legislator Helen Rose, District 2. “The broadcast helps keep our constituents involved. It provides transparency.”
“It’s disappointing that the college would take away this community resource,” said Legislator Gary Hartman, District 1. “It was a valuable community asset that promoted democracy.”
Hartman added the telecasts served as a liaison between the legislature and the public, and provided students in the college’s Radio-Television Broadcasting program real-world experience.
Murray said without students recording the meetings, the college would have to reassign labor, workload and hours to find a faculty member or an employee to manage the videotaping process.
“We all have had to tighten our budgets, so there are fewer people available to do this,” she said.
Herkimer County residents are not completely in the dark, however, as the Concerned Citizens for a Better Herkimer County currently records the legislature’s meetings and posts them on the group’s website — herkimercountyconceredcitizens.com. The group has even offered to bring their DVDs of the proceedings to the college so they could be broadcast on channel 99, said Rose.
Murray said the college is waiting to hear legal opinions about the liability of airing the recordings.
“My concern is that the recordings could be edited,” said legislature Chairman Vincent Bono, adding he would be in favor of broadcasting the meetings live on the Internet, if it were feasible. “If the meetings were broadcast live online, then there would be no issue with who owns the recording.”
Interim Concerned Citizens for a Better Herkimer County Chairman Robert Drumm said it would be unethical to edit the recordings. “As I am the person who does the recordings for our group, all I do is turn the camera on with the meeting begins and turn it off when the meeting adjourns,” he said. “The only editing that is done is the addition of a placard or screen that reads ‘Executive Session’ when the legislature or a committee enters executive session. There is no other editing.”
Page 2 of 2 - “I do not like the generalization that the legislators are not in favor of having the meetings recorded,” said Legislator Patrick Russell, District 15. “Not once have I heard a member of this body say they opposed the broadcast of our proceedings. I, for one, like the tapings and am glad the public service is being provided to our constituents, and I know many other legislators feel the same way.”
While no resolution has been offered yet, Bono said the matter would be discussed in committee.
In other business Wednesday, the legislature voted 14 - 3 to approve HCCC’s $25,276,377 budget for 2012 - 2013. The county’s contribution to the budget remained unchanged at $1,630,612.
Contributing: GateHouse News Service