For the first time in years, Hamilton residents may soon be able to watch meetings of their city council to see the decisions community leaders are making.
Council Member Carla Fiehrer, who was irked about speculation and inaccurate information about the city that has appeared on social media, suggested at Wednesday’s meeting that recordings be made of council meetings to help people see what’s actually being done.
“Where I think the good in Facebook still outweighs the bad, there’s a tremendous amount of inaccurate information that’s passed off as like gospel,” Fiehrer said. “So I think that we need to revisit live-streaming our meetings.”
She asked that if nobody objected, the matter be placed on the Dec. 11 meeting agenda, “and we begin it in January.”
Vice Mayor Michael Ryan said, “I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Thank you Councilwoman Fiehrer.”
Fiehrer told her colleagues she had already spoken with TV Hamilton director Steve Colwell, and he told her there would be no additional cost. Nobody on council objected Wednesday to the meetings being live-streamed, which will require a TV Hamilton staffer to be present during meetings.
There was a unanimous vote in favor of it Thursday morning by the TV Hamilton board, made up of Mayor Pat Moeller, representing the city; Council Member Kathleen Klink, representing the Hamilton Community Foundation; and Laurin Sprague of Hamilton’s school board.
Told about the possible video streaming, John Forren, a Miami University political scientist and chairman of the Department of Justice and Community Studies, and executive director of Miami’s new Menard Family Center for Democracy, praised the idea.
“I think it’s always a positive development to open up public meetings as much as possible to the public, so that the public can see what their local governments are doing,” Forren said.
He saw no downside to it, adding, “In a democracy, it’s always better when people are well-informed about what their government’s doing.”
Such knowledge builds better relationships between governments and those they serve, he said: “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s just a good-citizenship gesture. It’s a move to allow greater transparency and greater participation. That’s always good.”
The decisions discussed at city council meetings affect citizens in so many ways, Forren said, including their trash collection, plowing of snow from their streets, providing of firefighting and police services, and, in Hamilton’s case, supplying of electricity, natural gas and water from people’s taps.
“And so many people don’t know what their local government’s doing,” Forren said.
Danny Ivers, 20, who finished fifth in an eight-candidate race for three council seats in November, attended many council meetings in the past two years.
“I actually love that idea, because the rare council meetings that I do miss, to have that ability to see first-hand what occurred, I think that’s a great idea,” Ivers said. “And it’s a great source to communicate with citizens first-hand as well. They can see for themselves, and it’s all right there.”
“I think it will gather more interest,” added Ivers, who said he likely will run again in 2021. “People will see it, so I think it’ll get their attention more easily.”
After the council meeting, Fiehrer explained it wasn’t any one thing that made her raise the issue. But, she said, “Any sentence that starts with ‘I bet,’ ‘I think,’ ‘I heard,’ is not a fact.”
One recent Facebook string about a Christmas tree being lit for the second year in Hamilton’s Marcum Park rather than on the historic Butler County Courthouse property had manycomments, she said, most between a few people, including speculation about the Lindenwald neighborhood trying to secede from the city and theories about the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill gigantic indoor sports complex.
“It was just so much misinformation, and they speak like they sat right here and listened to everything we said,” Fiehrer said. “I’m just so sick of people thinking that they can just put anything they want on Facebook, and that’s gospel. And they don’t even make the effort to call, to find out how true it is.”
Klink, meanwhile, as Hamilton’s leading proponent of the 17Strong program, which seeks to increase communication between city government and the city’s 17 neighborhoods, wrote by email after Thursday morning’s vote: “We value transparency at council meetings and know TvH will be an important medium for our residents to have accurate and timely information.”
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