City Council on the tube Cable access: Panel proceedings almost fell victim to budget cuts and revenge.

September 30, 1997

WHETHER YOU LIKE the show or not, weekly telecasts of Baltimore City Council meetings on the cable-access channel have served the public's interest. It's good that a way has been found to continue the programs.

True, city viewers will have to put up with more self-serving speeches and long-winded recitations of irrelevant resolutions. But they also will get a chance to see how their local government officials handle the issues that affect their daily lives.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke chose not to include the city's Cable and Communications Office in this year's budget, saying the city couldn't afford the more than $500,000 cost. His rationale was dubious, though, since the cable office's funds came strictly from fees paid by cable TV subscribers.

Moreover, the cable office's rate reviews have given money back to city residents, including more than $6 million in excessive late fees that United Cable Television of Baltimore has been ordered to repay subscribers.

In what can only be viewed as a political move, some cable office employees were put on the payroll of the Baltimore Housing Authority, run by the mayor's confidant, Daniel P. Henson III. Not surprisingly, Mr. Henson has let the cable staff continue to broadcast the mayor's weekly press conferences.

But Mr. Henson has had a stormy relationship with the City Council. So when the question of televising council meetings came up, Mr. Henson offered to continue the broadcasts -- at three times the old rate.

Fortunately, Council President Lawrence A. Bell III found an independent production company that will do the job cheaper. And a spokesman says Mayor Schmoke has assured Mr. Bell that Channel 44 will keep the time-slot open for council meetings.

The entire issue needs to be re-evaluated. If the city isn't really saving money by shutting down its cable TV office, then the office should be restored so there is someone at City Hall monitoring the work of Baltimore City's cable television franchise.

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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