Tuesday, January 02, 2007

LIVE STREAMING OF TOWN BOARD MEETINGS SUGGESTED

Governor Eliot Spitzer signed an order on DAY 1 requiring "all state agencies and public authorities to develop plans by July 1 to stream all meetings subject to the open meetings law on the internet."
I am renewing my request to the Town Board that meetings of the Town Board be streamed live on the internet. Currently, our meetings are streamed on the town web site: www.greenburghny.com. However, the meetings are not live. Only residents who have cable TV can watch our meetings live. Those who don't subscribe to cable or who are out of town are at a disadavantage. They can't call in during meetings, participate in Dial Democracy, express themselves at public hearings if they are out of town.
Streaming Town Board meetings live on the internet is an important open government initiative that will make it easier for people to participate in government.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about streaming the Town Board work sessions also or at least putting them on cable. Are they subject to the open meeting law?

hal samis said...

In ADDITION to the Town Board Work sessions, the non PUBLIC HEARING PORTIONS of the Zoning and Planning Board meetings should also be televised.

The Public, those who watch these meetings, is left viewing an empty room (for an indeterminate period of time) while the Zoning Board meets in the back room - their deliberations should be televised as well. The Planning Board begins their meetings with a 45 minute work session which is similarly not broadcast.

Given that both of these Boards do invite the Public to physically attend, it seems inconsistent not to allow their broadcast as well.

Let's all face up to the new inevitabilites. Just like the public is being steered to on-line catalogues or manufacturer's instruction manuals, just like the Town is already making documents available online for viewing or download, so too has the day arrived (some may argue overdue) for all meetings open to the Public to be broadcast in their entirety.

This is not inconsistent with an often cited Freedom of Speech parallel. In 1776, freedom speech meant being allowed to set up your soapbox on the street and yell at the top of your lungs to all passerbys. 200+ years later with all kinds of unenvisioned media now existing,the guy with just the soap box may still have the same right to speak but it is a meaningless gesture without having access to a larger audience. The point is that with new media capabilites come new obligations of government. Although Town Hall is not poorly located; it is still inconvenient for many residents and thus with today's new communication ability (note two broadcast providers) there is no reason for government to not embrace the possibilites and adopt the Sy Syms mantra: "An educated customer is our best customer".

In fact, maybe it is time now for the Greenburgh Public Library Board of Trustees (funded by Greenburgh taxpayers as part of the TOG unincorporated budget) to get with the program and have their monthly meeting broadcast. Libraries are about providing information. And starting this month, their meetings are likely going to be held at Town Hall.

What may be necessary to broadcast these meetings from the various conference rooms is the purchase and installation of a few additional cameras. Fortunately there is money already at hand due to the capital contributions made by Cablevision.

Let's get live coverage of these meetings underway ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Capital contributions from Cablevision? Samis, get real. Cablevision stopped making its capital contributions two years ago when its 10-year contract with the Town expired - and there is no indication that any new capital contributions will be forthcoming anytime soon.

Verizon meanwhile has agreed to make capital contributions in its new contract with the Town, but unless the Town takes steps to place Cablevision on an equal footing - and thus far the Town has done nothing - the capital contributions from Verizon will dry up too.

Anonymous said...

If the governor signed an order, then why is this a discussion topic? No "request" is needed to the town board. Just do it - period.

hal samis said...

Dear Get Real:

Get well in 2007. All of the Cablevision capital contributions have not been spent; there is a remaining balance, more than enough for 1-2 cameras. And, since Mr. Sheehan prided himself on getting tough in negotiating the Verizon contract, then this too will depend on how well the Town enforces the agreed upon provisions.

Perhaps you know something I don't.
Are you suggesting that Verizon will not hold to its signed contract if Cablevision gets a more favorable deal? That if Cablevision doesn't have to make capital contributions, then Verizon no longer will be obligated.

Physician heal thyself; get real.

Anonymous said...

Don't tell me the Town of Greenburgh will get upset if someone does not hold up their end of the contract.

Wait a second, maybe VERIZON is learning that contacts don't mean much to the Town Board, even when they vote unanimously for them.

Anonymous said...

Hal, read the Verizon contract. It's available on line. It gives Verizon the right to walk away from making capital contributions to Greenburgh if Cablevision isn't also required to make them. That provision hasn't changed from day one.

That provision was also discussed on several occasions during the hearing. Weren't you listening?

As for any "balance" in capital contributions remaining from the days when Cablevision was actually making those payments, I challenge you to find such a balance reported anywhere in the town's financial statements which are also available to you online.

Hal, for a guy who tells again and again that he's never wrong, why don't you get back to us on this when you've checked the facts.

hal samis said...

Dear anon:

Having a name is one sign of being real.

And when you use your name you often have to spend some time to defend it, even against those who hide in the dark.

Perhaps you need to re-read what I wrote and think along the lines of my oft stated premise: that when things go "wrong" in Greenburgh, they go "wrong" because of the complicity of the Town Council with 4 members, any 3 capable of preventing anything "wrong" from happening. Lately the Town Council, under Gil Kaminer, has embarked upon a Public Relations
program to tell lay residents how good they are doing, how hard they work, how late they stay up and how diligent they are in performance of their duties. Whenever they vote, be it Valhalla or Verizon agreements.

The Verizon contract signing was one such self-laudatory event. As you have pointed out the contract states that if, say a "Cablevision", does not have to make capital "contributions", then neither shall Verizon. Clearly the reasonable thinking was that one provider should not be burdened with pass-along fees which would make their monthly bill appear higher than a provider not obligated to collect this "contribution". "Contributionsare funded by cable subscribers and the franchisee collects and passes along this money to the Town. Thus, cable users are the real source of these "contributions" but the amount is still part of what these resident/users are being billed.

However, what you neglected to point out is that Verizon (from my memory) either doesn't have to make these contributions on an ongoing basis, gets a "credit" for contributions already collected or, doesn't even have to make any contributions* if they are not similarly being collected from Cablevision. This to me is the crux of the matter: that despite the show for the public of what a fine franchise agreement was negotiated, those who read it know the surviving flaws. That the Cablevision franchise expired, was not renewed, was not successfully negotiated and hence not signed...shows how negligent the Town Board was in signing, in effect, what becomes a "unilateral" agreement with one provider, the desireable portions of which could ultimately be lost pending evidence of their existence in a future contract, which may or may not occur, with a competitor. And if my memory is correct, the fruits* (the capital equipment contribution) of the Verizon contract may not actually be harvested only UNTIL a Cablevision contract is in effect. Since, even after two years, nothing has brought Cablevision to the table while the market may now be less desireable (read profitable) creating less incentives for Cablevision to replicate the Verizon terms; thus, in effect, rendering the Verizon contract forever barren of fruit.

Tough negotiators, our Town Council (read Mr. Sheehan) and our Town Clerk. The Town Clerk has a long history of blissful ignorance when it comes to the Cable franchise and maintenance of a Cable Access Studio.

So for this part of your charge, I don't think I was wrong; I don't think I made incorrect statements. All I did was to point out that the Town Council, despite running up its own banner, did not shut the door tightly and that what it proclaimed "gained" could easily be lost.

As for your second charge that I cannot locate the cable capital equipment balance in the financial statements -- this doesn't prove that it doesn't exist.
Frankly I haven't looked but during those same Public Hearings a figure was cited, perhaps in the area of $30,000. You claim to be knowledgeable so if you have different information, please share.
You have challenged me to produce a cable equipment balance which frankly I don't have the skills or time to pursue. You have "inferred" there is
no balance amd thus declaring me fact-deficient. However, if I am wrong I shall concede my error but before I do, let me ask you simply: are you aware of such a cable capital equipment balance? Let's say I'm lazy but, rather than only take your criticism that I can't prove my statement, this by itself does not deny my underlying assertion. So, even though you are anonymous, I ask you again: is there a balance, even one that I can't point out?

Keep me in the loop.

Anonymous said...

No Hal, there is no cable capital equipment balance. That's why, were you to have looked, you wouldn't be able to find it. Thus, your statement "there is money already at hand due to the capital contributions made by Cablevision" was wrong.

You were also wrong in questioning the statement that Verizon could walk away from making its own capital contributions if Cablevision didn't agree to make its own capital contributions. Here, it was so obvious you didn't know what you were talking about, you were told to go research the issue.

But instead of admitting you didn't know jack, you disingenously deny questioning this at all and, instead, spew several hundred words trying to persuade us that you knew all along that Verizon could walk.

Sorry Hal. You've proved with these blog entries of yours that you really don't know what you're talking about. Since you were wrong, got caught, and won't admit it, why should anyone now take seriously your personal attacks on the town council, its assistant, and the town clerk?

Feiner, as the town's chief executive officer and its only full-time elected town official, is responsible for there being no Cablevision contract. You can be sure that if there were a contract, he'd be the first to take credit for it, just as he took full credit for the Verizon contract which he had nothing to do with.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone blame Feiner for not having a cablevision contract when a contract requires 3 votes from the council?

Anonymous said...

Spitzer says "stream meetings on the internet." Feiner says count me in. Spitzer says we need tough ethical standards for governmental offcials. Feiner is silent. Appoint a new Town Ethics Board or a former judge to hear and determine within 30 days the legality of your taking money from attorneys for developers with applications before various town boards under the Town's Code of Ethics.

Anonymous said...

Cablevision is enjoying a windfall in not having a new contract with Greenburgh. It gets to charge what it can, and unlike it new competitor Verizon, it no longer has to provide any capital contributions.

So why isn't Feiner leading the charge for a new contract with Cablevision?

Cablevision is represented in Greenburgh by the same lawyer in White Plains who hosted Feiner's largest campaign fundraising ever. In March 2004, he raked in over $30,000, including thousands of dollars in contributions from developers with applications pending before the town.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Anonymous said...

Oh heavens - everything is Feiner's fault - just him - no one else - there is no money - it's Feiner's fault they say. Good way to dodge the issue. Let's have a bake sale to raise the money for the cameras for the tv or internet feed for the Town Board work sessions.

hal samis said...

To my anonymouse attacker:

Today I emailed Town Comptroller Heslop asking his answer to the question: is there any money left in the cable capital equipment account. If not, where did it go?
When he responds (hopefully soon) I shall either be right or wrong and will respond accordingly with either "I told you so" or "I was wrong".

However I do apologize, nor need to, to the anonymice for having enticed him/her into a trap with a piece of swiss cheese (holes). The idea was to have this "expert" party identify the weaknesses in the Verizon agreement. My suspicion is that this "expert" is proud of their handiwork in producing the Verizon agreement. Having the "opposition" state the case is often more effective. That the Town Board, especially Mr. Sheehan, were so proud of their crafting "damaged goods" is of little consequence to me. What may have been forgotten by my attacker was my phoned-in admonition to the Town Board that they were dealing in the particulary complex and uncharted waters of telecommunications law while the other side of the table conducts these negotiations everyday, aided by highly compensated on-call experts.

Thus, it would be foolhardy to believe that Mr. Sheehan, Mr. Bass, Ms Williams and Tim Lewis (however well-intentioned) would be their equal, regardless of how much effort they expended. And, since the Town Board had previously acknowledged the need to hire a Construction Contracts legal expert, a neutral Attorney to review the Frank's lease situation, a mediator for A/B budgets (and shortly post Verizon, a law firm to review the Town's accounting) that it would be equally as negligent to proceed without such expertise and thus they should not approve the Verizon contract, a ten year commitment, without first obtaining this expertise. So you see there was a method to my "madness" and it was not just to avoid your ridicule.

Furthermore, the cable franchises, the capital expenditures or not by the Town were matters once of interest to me and I PAID MY DUES then in this area a few years back when I directed Alfreda Williams to leave her office in the old Town Hall and look at the "for rent" sign across the street, directed her to the party to contact, faxed the floor plans of two available spaces and challenged her "understanding" that the building was not handicapped accessible (even though it was too far from her office to visit while being home to the fourth floor Social Security offices). Then I uncovered that the capital equipment account was being used to pay rent (the entire amount) for a space that was shared with the Comptroller's office (then Nora) and that the expense of building a wall to secure the stored documents of the Comptroller was charged again to the cable equipment account. Then when the new town hall was ready, I suggested six months before the lease expiration that the Town attempt to sublease at a vastly lower rent just to have a tool to bargain with the landlord for early lease termination and thereby staunch the rent flow out of the capital equipment account. During the period that the Cable Access Advisory Committee existed, I regularly attended meetings, without portfolio, and tried to exact a working model. And I held numerous private consultations with Cablevision personnel to chart the progress of the franchise renewal talks. These are my bonafides. What do you bring to the table beside your abuse?

But the reason I have been silent regarding the Verizon negotiations is that cable studio production no longer interests me, that the broadcast quality of channel 76 has improved and that my surviving Greenburgh interests have been the Library expansion project and local real estate issues. Don't assume however that my Verizon silence translates to an ignorance of what was underway. A private citizen can handle just so much and on this matter I chose to sit back and watch the Town Board screw it up. I was not disappointed.

So while I await Mr. Heslop's response, perhaps you can consider the part of my blog statement that you chose to ignore: whether the other town boards should broadcast their meetings in the entirety and that all work sessions should be broadcast as well.

And if the expense of doing this is just the purchase of a few cameras, perhaps the Town can find a way to fund this EVEN if it turns out that there is no money in the cable equipment account.

Finally, if the Verizon contract is what the Town Board claims is state of art for cable franchise negotiations, then why is the Town Board not foisting it upon Cablevision. You know that Cablevision was a presence and an interested party throughout the negotiations and with the awareness that they would encounter the fait accompli when they returned to the table for their own piece of the pie. Cablevision is well aware that they (or any new candidate) will now have to match or exceed the benefit level of the Verizon agreement. How long can they continue to operate without a signed agreement? Only your Town Board knows for sure. Imagine this scenario. A member of the Town Board introduces a Resolution to present a copy of the Verizon Agreement to Cablevision for Cablevision endorsement. Another member of the Town Board seconds the motion. A Public Hearing is scheduled. After much comment, the matter is called for vote. Three members of the Town Board vote yes.
Bingo, Cablevision is welcomed aboard and "competition" (not my choice of noun) has finally come to Greenburgh.

And the alternative? Dear Cablevision, you have 90 days to execute this contract. Thereafter, if not endorsed, please remove your equipment from Greenburgh forthwith.

And why not this alternative? Because of our Town Board's cleverness, the delineated obligations of Verizon diminish without a competitor to "pace" them. Who's laughing? Cablevision.
Because they don't have to sign anything knowing that they are needed to keep Verizon tethered.

I suspect that it why there is no rush for them to sign. And, how many members of the Town Board voted to approve the Verizon contract? Unlike the VSD agreement where the fallible four merely voted, pleading ignorance; this time around they were active participants.

Where is Mr. Kaminer when the Council needed him so badly?

Anonymous said...

This is a very good idea. Meetings of the Town Board should be streamed. Thank you Supervisor Feiner for a good idea

Anonymous said...

This is not "a good idea" or a "suggestion." This is a state mandate that must be implemented.

hal samis said...

Status report on email request to Comptroller Heslop for cable equipment fund balance.
Day 1:
No reply.

hal samis said...

Status Report on email request to Comptroller Heslop for cable equipment fund balance.
Day 2:
No reply

Monday I shall resubmit my request.
Heslop is probably very busy setting up the first round of budget transfers in and out of the Departments that the Public assumes were what was represented as the 2007 Budget.

Anonymous said...

open government and transparency is a good thing. Government that operates in secret makes mistake. Good going paul

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