January 2015

Tune in, tune out

Tune in or tune out It may just be the television hit of the new season – locally, at least.

The Montezuma County commissioners are planning to start telecasting their Monday meetings at some unspecified date in the near future, once they get the technical kinks worked out.

Soon, local citizens will be able to view these sometimes-six-hour-long meetings in their entirety from the comfort of their homes. The board has promised that they won’t just live-stream the meetings, they will make them available for viewing at any time online. The commissioners are to be praised for moving in this direction, allowing the public to see them in action. No longer will citizens have to depend on the accounts of reporters or dedicated commission followers like Greg Kemp or Bud Garner to learn what went on in the meeting room each week. Now they can see the gatherings themselves in all their tedium and/or occasional excitement. Landfill reports, grant requests, sporadic speeches railing against Obama and the federal government, discussions about roads and potholes – the nitty-gritty of county operations will be exposed to the sunshine.

The commissioners have said this will let people see the “true” picture of what they do rather than the allegedly biased accounts in the media, and we agree. If anything, the press has generally bent over backward throughout the years to portray the commissioners in a reasonably positive light, cleaning up garbled comments and bad grammar, not recounting off-the-cuff jokes that fell flat or snide comments made about various people. (We’re not talking about this board in particular, you understand, but all the boards throughout the past couple of decades.) Because we always figured that the commissioners deserved a little leniency since their meetings were so informal and relaxed, we took a fairly forgiving approach in reporting things they said outside of actual public hearings. (Come on, guys, you know we could have made you look REALLY bad if that had been our goal.)

That will change with the televising of the meetings. Whatever the commissioners say will be on record for all to see, pretty much forever. Viewers can scrutinize the meaning of every joke, examine whether every executive session was called properly, play and replay every comment made by not just the commissioners but county officials and others coming before the board. (And even those spontaneous and unsolicited words of wisdom that sometimes spring forth from an audience member. Not strictly following Robert’s Rules of Order is part of the meetings’ cachet, after all.)

Televising their meetings will put Montezuma County on the cutting edge among local governments here and to the west of us. Beyond the Cortez City Council, no one we’re aware of broadcasts their meetings. San Juan County, Utah, does make audio recordings of its meetings available online very promptly, but not video, and even the Cortez council doesn’t offer them on demand. This will be a boon to citizens with regular jobs who simply can’t make it to the Monday meetings as well as disabled people who didn’t want to navigate the obstacles of the aging county courthouse. Not only that, but the new sound system should be a great aid to those folks who DO go to the meetings and still strain to understand what the commissioners are saying. This could prove a very good educational tool: Maybe teachers will require their civics classes to watch the meetings.

(This could stir some young people to think of running for the commission themselves some day, or, of course, it could scare them off forever!)

And for the folks who don’t want to watch all the hours of often-dull discussions, the press will still offer the usual condensed accounts, with the visual record providing us a way to check our notes for accuracy.

So, even though the commissioners may feel they are doing this to defy the press or somehow get around it, we welcome it. This is a bold step and we’re glad they are taking it.