Not that many years ago, there was a newspaper reporter present at nearly every municipal board meeting. The reporter on the “town hall beat” was a guarantor of democracy, ready to hold board members responsible for their actions.
Many people believe a danger to our democracy was created by the diminution of local newspaper coverage as the print industry cut staff to the bone. Pundits feared that, left in the dark, local boards would forget the rules, run amok in some cases - and the public would never find out.
This threat has been pushed back by the Internet’s ability to offer all citizens a “video on demand” of most local boards’ proceedings. A prime example of this is the public outcry over the so-called “bullying” incident at the May 21st meeting of the Orleans Board of Health.
As accusations flew surrounding the conduct of Chairman Jeb Taylor and BOH member Augusta McKusick, any citizen with an Internet connection could visit the town’s website and watch the entire meeting. Those with less time could find clips of the offensive moments in many places online as the incident went viral.
Watch the video and decide for yourself
Watch the video below and you can hear exactly what was said, watch the body language and see the other board members hanging their heads.
In the case of Orleans video on demand, not only does the video show the “bullies” at work, one can clearly hear an audience member remind the two that they are being recorded. As another editor said, this moment will live forever in cyberspace. Little did Taylor and McKusick realize that their words and actions would go viral, bringing state and national attention to the Town of Orleans’ disgrace.
Taylor and McKusick, by the way, should resign without delay. If they refuse, their fellow board members should boycott meetings until the pair can face a recall election.
In so many ways, the Internet is an even better guarantor of the democratic process than is the old reporter-in-the-room. Politicians everywhere used to complain they were “misquoted in the press” or that their remarks “were taken out of context”. The town hall video system gives the public an unfiltered view of how their town government functions.
Just about every town on Cape Cod has a video-on-demand section of its website. Before you vote in the next local election, exercise your democratic rights – watch a few of your town committee videos and see how you feel about the way members conduct the taxpayers’ business.
(Above video from the Town of Orleans Channel 18 website.)