Committee approves plan to air key city meetings on TV

Finance officials balk at $45,000 cost

November 02, 2010|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

A proposal to televise meetings of the powerful city boards that oversee spending, zoning and liquor stores and bars was approved by a key City Council committee Monday night.

Meetings of the five-member Board of Estimates, the Liquor Board and the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals would be broadcast on the city's public access cable channel under the proposal, which requires the approval of the full council and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake before it goes into effect.

Finance officials raised objections to the plan at Monday's hearing, saying that there was no guarantee that the $45,000 needed to broadcast the meetings could be found in the cash-strapped city's $1.2 billion budget.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who proposed the measure, said that not funding the broadcasts would be a "slap in the face to every citizen in Baltimore."

"It's a little bit of money compared to the millions we give away" in tax incentives to developers, Young said.

"This is something that should be automatic," he said. "There should be no push back from the administration or the finance department."

Finance officials said the $75,000 needed to purchase equipment to broadcast the hearings would be covered by fees collected from cable subscribers. But rules governing the fees prevent the money from covering the $45,000 cost of staffing the hearings and maintaining equipment.

A similar measure was introduced by Councilman Robert W. Curran in 2005, but died in committee.

Community leaders testified in support of the bill, saying that their work schedules often prohibit them from attending meetings and hearings in person.

"We have to pay hundreds of dollars to get transcripts or lose money by taking off work," said Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance.

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said that she supported the idea in theory, but that "current budget constraints make this new proposed expenditure difficult to fund at this time."

"In the future, it would be more helpful to introduce new spending proposals as part of the budget process while specifically identifying a source of funding," said spokesman Ryan O'Doherty.

Councilman James B. Kraft, chair of the judiciary and legislative investigations committee, noted that Rawlings-Blake had repeatedly stated her support for transparency in government.

"Given her prior statements on openness in government, I can't imagine she wouldn't find this small amount of money," said Kraft.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

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