After watching Monday night’s broadcast of the Southbridge town council meeting on local cable access I had to ask how much of this is a council meeting and how much is an infomercial?
Now, it’s not that I have anything against local cable access being used to promote local businesses. For a while Larry Beinema and John Gatti, Jr. made a noble effort at presenting information on this subject with their now defunct Eye on Southbridge broadcasts. In addition they provided interviews with local government officials.
Now, however, it seems that the first half of every town council meeting is devoted to such material. Maybe I’m mistaken (according to many that wouldn’t be a new phenomenon) but I doubt that is why most people watch a council meeting.
Most viewers, I believe, watch to see what decisions will be made on matters of council business. I think the second largest element of viewership comes from the same people who are fans of WWE Smackdown or NASCAR enthusiasts who watch primarily in the hope of seeing a car wreck.
Few, however, I believe watch for these infomercial-like presentations.
One consequence of this padding of the meeting agenda is that, when the council actually gets around to council business, councilors appear to be fidgeting to rush through the agenda and be on their way.
As a result discussions of matters of serious import to the town are truncated. Citizen input, especially of a critical nature, is greeted with barely disguised indifference. Questions that cannot or are desired not to be answered are dismissed with visceral contempt and obfuscation, whether those questions are from citizens or disfavored councilors.
In my opinion these dog and pony shows should be stricken from the town council agenda. If councilors are so bored, tired or indifferent by the time they get around to doing the actual business of the town, perhaps they should treat that as the priority purpose for which they hold these biweekly assemblies.
If attention should be given to promoting local businesses or explaining the role of town departments, these should be the subject of separate productions by the cable access operation and contained in their own discrete broadcasts.
However, since the enforced departure of long-time cable director Paul Zotos, the presence of such locally produced public informational programming, unless promoting the political interests of a particular political faction in the town, have become virtually non-existent.
More than forty hours after the broadcast of Monday night’s council meeting, we are still seeing re-broadcasts of the July 9th council meeting. This while a neighboring town is making such content available on the internet. Perhaps it is time for the town manager and the council to stop gutting the public access budget and micro-mismanaging the operation of that department.
Let’s return the town council meetings to doing the business for which those meetings are intended and putting the non-council business content in a more appropriate and as easily accessible forum.