Council discusses to videotape or not to videotape

Westfield Media Specialist Peter Cowles(Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD – A motion by At-large Councilors Matthew Emmershy and Daniel Allie to recall from the Legislative & Ordinance committee the matter of Recording and Broadcasting of Committee meetings engendered a more than an hour long discussion at the end of Thursday’s City Council meeting.
“It is impossible to do this in this building at this time,” said At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris, citing difficulties in scheduling meetings and securing volunteers.
At-large Councilor Brent B. Bean, II said it is a great idea, but asked what happens if it doesn’t happen. He said there is an ordinance that says each department must produce an annual report, but maybe only two that he knows of do it.
“The only person that can spearhead this project in the city is Peter Cowles, and we just tabled him,” Bean said.
Bean was referring to what happened to an earlier motion by Harris.
Harris, who chairs the Personnel Action Committee, had submitted for immediate consideration the reappointment of Peter Cowles as Media Systems Specialist for a one year term. Harris said that every councilor was knowledgeable about Cowle’s experience and expertise. “We’re all involved with him on a daily basis,” Harris said, referring to his frequent stints videotaping Council meetings.
Emmershy objected to the immediate consideration, saying that a year ago, it was supposed to be a one-year appointment and then moved to the School Department. “I hope if we reconfirm Peter Cowles, (there will be) more recording of subcommittees, especially since we now have him,” Emmershy said.
Harris said the appointment could still be voted on, because she was given an opinion by the Law Department that immediate consideration for personnel hires could be made by a majority vote, as opposed to immediate consideration for appropriations, which only takes one opposed to vote down.
Flaherty rejected that opinion, which he said is not the way the council has handled requests for immediate consideration in the past.
“Unfortunately, we’re talking more about the job than the person. He does a great job, and has been more than accommodating,” said Bean.
“In certain respects, I wholeheartedly agree,” Emmershy said, but added that Cowles will be signing a new personal services agreement. The appointment was referred to Harris’ committee.
Bean also agreed with Harris’ point that the logistics of taping every committee meeting is very difficult. He also objected to the motion begin made without consulting the chair of L&O, Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski.
Babinski said the Open Meeting Law does not require any meetings to be televised.

“You have to keep government records in perpetuity; and this would become part of the public record,” she said.
Onyski, who brushed off the lack of consultation, said when it was sent to him from Government Relations, he was told that it was all set. However, he received an opinion from the Law Department that it would not be an ordinance, because it involves budgetary and staffing issues, and the mayor must be consulted.
“I didn’t say that we had a positive recommendation from Legal,” said Ward 3 Councilor Andrew K. Surprise, who chairs Government Relations.
“Our role is to create ordinances,” Flaherty said. “Nothing is said that we can’t create an ordinance to do this. If the mayor doesn’t like it, he can veto it, then it comes back to us.”
Onyski suggested sending it back to the Government Relations to work it out, which passed 7-4 over the objections of committee chair Surprise.
Emmershy also made a motion for a review of policies and procedures for the creation and approval of Personal Services Agreements, which was referred to Long Range Finance, chaired by Flaherty.

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