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Government TV on the right track
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000
The Hernando County Commission made the correct decision Tuesday when it instructed County Administrator Paul McIntosh to have county employees videotape and broadcast candidate forums on the local government television station. Two groups, the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce and the Spring Hill Civic Association, are sponsoring the events and both had requested that county employees videotape the candidates and then air them on Time Warner Communications cable Channel 19.
The commissioners acknowledged the importance of making it easier for residents to see and hear the people who are seeking elected office, and they understood it would be a wise use of a government resource.
County Administrator Paul McIntosh has been instructed to devise a policy that will address similar requests. As he does, it would be astute of him to broaden that assignment to include other requests for coverage of community events.
The cornerstone of the policy should be that any group that wants coverage must pay the county for the time its employees spend traveling to and from the event, videotaping and editing.
McIntosh also should specify in the policy what access residents can have to post public service announcements and meeting notices. If that service remains free, as it should, there needs to be a clear directive from the commission that sets standards, such as limiting it to not-for-profit organizations whose activities are open to the public.
Commissioner Nancy Robinson discerningly recognized the need to go beyond such nuts-and-bolts details when she told her fellow commissioners Tuesday "We need to decide what we want to be as a channel." Indeed, that could be McIntosh's biggest challenge.
So far, Channel 19 has been used to air live and taped broadcasts of meetings and public hearings of the County Commission, the Planning and Zoning Board, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the legislative delegation. When those events aren't being rebroadcast, the county's community relations office has produced short informational videos that are designed to educate viewers about various services. The Hernando County judiciary also has taped similar segments to make viewers more aware of how the legal system operates.
Those are good uses and McIntosh and the commission should look to expand such in-house coverage to help residents learn how to better use their government. For instance, let the video camera take a viewer through the step-by-step process of applying for a building permit, or obtaining a passport, or looking up a record in the Property Appraiser's Office.
More extensive coverage probably will require more funding, and perhaps even more staff. The commission should not hesitate to allocate the amount necessary to meet that need.
Commission meetings have been televised only a few years. Yet, it has become an indispensable tool for many people who want to see their government in action, but were unable or disinclined to attend the meetings in Brooksville. Channel 19 has brought government closer to the people it serves and the commission should try to stay a step ahead in anticipating the needs of its residents, and offering improvements to the programming.
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