The videotaping started a few weeks ago, and a straightforward announcement from the Atherton Police Officers Association explained that, since members are unable to attend all meetings, the videos "allow us to better understand and participate in the decisions made by the town."
Mayor Dobbie apparently had a different take, telling a local newspaper that he didn't think it was appropriate. He also said he thought some members of the public and the Finance Committee thought it was the association's way of telling town officials, "you better do what we want you to do."
Perhaps, but why would the mayor or any other city official feel threatened by someone simply videotaping a meeting, which is already public? In fact, city officials might want to thank the police officers for providing a service that is available as a matter of course in many other cities. Menlo Park has been taping and live webcasting its council meetings for years, which is a godsend for residents who may not be able to attend but want to keep up on the city's business.
It may be that the association is interested only in council discussion of police issues, which would mean many other meetings will proceed without a video camera running. We expect the city's dire budget situation, which could impact salary and benefits for police officers and raise the possibility of outsourcing, is one of the reasons the association wants to keep tabs on the council.
Maybe Mr. Dobbie and other council members will get a nudge from Bill Widmer, their recently elected colleague, who during his campaign pledged to bring more transparency to council meetings. Among the ideas he advanced are digitizing many public records and streaming video of council meetings on the Web. He also suggested that council meetings be shortened and held on two days if necessary.
These were good ideas during the campaign and are even better now, since the police officers have pushed the issue to the forefront. It would cost the city very little to stream the council meetings on the Web and it would give residents an easy way to view the meetings at home, work or any other venue that can receive a Wi-Fi signal.
Rather than view the present videotaping as threatening, the council should quickly move forward with its own taping system, which would move them out of the dark ages and onto the Web.