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Councilmen back bill to webcast CB meetings

By Kelsey Durham

Two city councilmen from Queens are backing a newly introduced bill that would require all community boards in the city to provide live webcasts of their monthly meetings.

Councilmen Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) have both pledged their support for the bill, but both agree there are flaws that need to be worked out before the idea can become a reality. The legislation was introduced into the Council Feb. 4 and was immediately referred to the Committee on Technology, which held a hearing Feb. 24 to hear testimony.

One of the biggest concerns brought up by several people who spoke at the hearing, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, was about the costs involved with broadcasting meetings through a live web stream. Brewer said that while she supported the idea, she questioned how realistic it would be for small community boards to afford the equipment and the labor to make the webcast happen.

“The issues faced by small agencies are even more serious for community boards, who have tiny budgets, few staff and ever-changing meeting rooms which make webcasting difficult,” she said. “I would hope that any requirement that community boards broadcast their meetings include a strong financial commitment to assist them with purchasing equipment and learning how to adequately record and upload the proceedings.”

Weprin, who serves on the technology committee, said he thinks the bill is a good idea and would encourage people to become more involved in their local government, but he said the Council does recognize the need for assistance if it were to pass.

“Most people are interested in what’s discussed at community boards but don’t have time to go to meetings,” Weprin said. “I think it would be very helpful for the public to see the community board in action. People have more respect for what government does when they see it.”

Weprin said the technology committee was supportive of the bill but has not yet begun discussing specifics, such as who will pay for the filming and how it will be set up. Koo, one of seven sponsors of the legislation, also said he thinks the bill would allow busy community members to participate in meetings, which would also be archived and stored online to be watched after the live webcast has ended.

“The idea is good because these boards are the basic form of democracy in communities now but, of course, with anything we do, we need funding,” Koo said. “The idea is to move forward first and have this approved and then we’ll have another meeting to see if we can find additional funding.”

Documents from the Feb. 24 hearing on the bill show that some individuals testified in favor of the bill, including some community board members who said they support the idea of broadcasting full meetings but agree that monetary help would be needed in order to do so. Weprin said he thinks the bill has gotten a good level of support from the Council so far, and he hopes Mayor Bill de Blasio will endorse it as it progresses, no matter how slowly.

“Government doesn’t always move quickly, but this is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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