Staver's vote sinks live streaming plans
On Monday, the Rochester City Council was unable to muster enough votes to override Mayor Brede's veto of a plan that would have allowed for live video recording of various city meetings.
The motion failed 4-3, with Council President Randy Staver changing positions following the mayor's veto. (The measure had initially passed 5-1 with Staver voting in favor of the live-streaming. Ed Hruska, who was not in attendance the first time around, voted "nay" Monday night. Overriding a veto requires 5 of 7 votes.)
The original plan was to spend $25,000 to upgrade City Hall Room 104 with the audio/visual equipment needed to record and live-stream city meetings. In addition to afternoon council meetings — known as Committee of the Whole — the technology would have been available to other city oversight committees that use the same room, such as the park board and the police oversight commission.
But soon after getting council approval, the mayor stepped in to veto the action, stating the additional oversight is “unnecessary” because the COW meetings are not legally binding (formal action can only be taken at regular evening meetings).
Mayor Brede expanded on his comments Monday, adding that he feels the notion of increased transparency is often overused.
"Frankly, it seems like everything, not only here but nationally and otherwise, everything is to be transparent," said Brede. He went on to state, "I do think it's a term that seems to get thrown out willy-nilly for just about anything — if you got a question about it, well we got to be more transparent."
Council member Mark Bilderback joined his three youngest colleagues — Michael Wojcik, Nick Campion and Annalissa Johnson — in voting to override the mayor's veto.
"We have multiple committees that meet down in that same room, and now you would have some opportunity to see what you don't see now — not just the council and what goes on there, but our other citizen committees [too]," said Bilderback.
He noted that issues often go through a lengthy process before reaching the council, and that adding video capabilities would give the public an "opportunity to see government in action."
"You know, people come here and go, 'You guys make a split decision on something and you just heard about it.' Well, in reality, if you would follow it from when these committees first started, [it is] a year [or] year and a half process from the time things first start before they get here," said Bilderback.
In voting against the measure, council member Ed Hruska said he still had concerns about the implementation of the technology.
"We're opening up, basically, an unfunded expense with no operational procedure, no one responsible, no one educated on how it works and what it takes to repair it," said Hruska.
However, Hruska said he would be open to reconsidering the matter once logistical issues have been sorted out.
"If we have a plan on which groups are going to use it, when they're going to use it, what it's going to cost, who's going to be responsible for using it — and put it in the budget — then that's responsible government," he said Monday night.
In an email Wednesday, Staver said his change in vote was in response to comments made by council members Hruska and Mark Hickey. He noted that his vote "really had nothing to do with the philosophical point of transparency" and that he was open to debating the issue again, perhaps during budget discussions.
"I think [Hruska] was correct in noting that we hadn't really discussed the policy side or operational costs and may be rushing to implement," said Staver. (Since he did not make a statement on the record Monday, we included his full comments below.)
Hickey, Staver and Hruska also pointed to past issues with the video technology in the full council chambers. (Video is available for full council meetings; audio is published of COW meetings.)
In response, Campion argued that past problems should not dissuade the city from trying to make improvements.
"We can do better," said Campion. "We should always push ourselves to do better. And let's not settle for, falling into this 'victim' trap with the technology. We'll work to make it better. I am here to make it better. Let's do that together."