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Gordon: Westminster still needs to catch up, live stream its council meetings

The Maryland General Assembly has announced that it will begin to live stream its meetings in the House of Delegates starting in 2020 with the State Senate to follow in 2021. In doing so, this will give greater transparency to the constituents that they serve.

The bill to live stream meetings in the House was introduced by bipartisan lawmakers. Speaker Michael Busch commented in a statement that "transparency is key to an open and free government, and I have no doubt that embracing this technology in the House chamber will improve the public's accessibility to the legislature.”

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While Speaker Busch and I personally would not agree on many matters politically, I applaud the move forward in Annapolis regarding transparency. The need for transparency is neither a Republican nor Democratic issue, but an issue for all.

In March of 2017, I wrote an Other Voices article that addressed the idea of the Westminster City Council live streaming meetings. As we are coming toward the two-year mark of this previous article, it is time again to pose the question: Why do we not have live stream meetings available in Westminster?

Some will initially argue the cost, but the public is owed openness and transparency and any public servant will agree this is a necessity and not an option. The technology is available for any cellphone user to live stream a video on Facebook or numerous other phone apps. The days of audio recordings of council meetings are well past their time, outdated, and in some cases they are garbled, which makes it difficult for the interested public who might want to listen to their elected officials. Some will be quick to point out that the public can attend meetings live or that in some cases few members of the public attend live meetings. Are these the rationalizations that should dictate transparency in 2019?

There is no doubt that many citizens of Westminster have an interest regarding the numerous topics that affect our community. One issue that might significantly affect attendance is the lack of access. While the meetings are open for all to attend, it is a fact of life that people have very busy schedules and we live in a county of commuters. For some, it is difficult to attend meetings due to their work schedules, parents can be busy after a long day caring for their children, or some older citizens might not be able to physically attend, to name only a few possibilities.

The City of Westminster has been enterprising in its decision to create a high-speed fiber network with internet company Ting, the Westminster Smart Home project, as well as being a funding partner of MAGIC, a nonprofit in Westminster that is working to build a tech ecosystem that creates and nurtures talent, entrepreneurship and tech businesses, elevating the Westminster gigabit community.

The Westminster Common Council needs to continue on the path of forward thinking and the implementation of technology by adding a live video feed to its City Council meetings. Locally, the Carroll County government and the Board of Education both offer live video feed of meetings as well as archived video of previous meetings. Adding live video feed to Westminster Common Council meetings would offer instant access to meetings, and provide more transparency and openness for all who live in Westminster to benefit. It’s time for Westminster to utilize its technology and better serve the public.

Tom Gordon writes from Westminster.

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