Government has its hands in public access

Vicki Westling was only being polite. At the Feb. 28 Dunkirk Board of Education meeting, the city employee — and assistant to Mayor Wilfred Rosas — asked if the public access channel could televise the district’s scheduled public gatherings.

Key word: “public.”

City school board members did not embrace the request that evening. But, in the current era where everyone has a phone that also acts as a video camera in their possession, it made sense for the board to allow the broadcasts to occur.

“We do have the right to set guidelines though, such as coming ahead of time to set up and that they can’t ask questions and disrupt,” said Dave Damico, school board president on March 14. “Our board policy states that ‘public meetings can be photographed, broadcast, webcast or otherwise recorded,’ because that has to do with the law. If they wish to do that, we have to allow that to happen.”

Public access channels are one more potential watchdog for taxpayers. The problem, however, is municipalities have some control over the programming. Funding for these channels, which is part of the cable franchise agreements, go through the entity to operate the station.

It is a slippery slope as the channel is an arm of government. There’s no denying the Dunkirk access channel has ties to the city just as Fredonia’s has connections to the village.

For all intents and purposes both have solid staff members, especially those behind the cameras. The channels also provide a community service in allowing residents to view meetings or sporting events taking place within the region.

Back in the day, legendary area announcer Ed Eaker made a name for himself calling a number of local sporting events and hosting a weekly show. He even had the late and former Bills’ General Manager John Butler in the booth during the Fredonia-Dunkirk football rivalries in the late 1990s.

Today, Greg Krauza has stepped up to take his place while the channels also offer future broadcasters, including State University of New York at Fredonia student Kevin Siracuse, a learning experience.

But those broadcasts have the potential to hinder interaction. Consider the number of people who attend government meetings being broadcast. Normally, the rooms are less than full and often there is little comment from the people in attendance. Those watching at home, while interested in their community, do not have the urgency to get to the event if it is televised.

That was exactly some of the concern voiced by the Dunkirk school board. They would rather hear from their constituents face-to-face.

“I would like to see the community members come to the meetings,” said Dunkirk school board Vice President Claudia Szczerbacki on Feb. 28. “I realize there’s some older people who can’t attend the meetings, but if you’re really that interested they should be here.”

Most recently, the city schools were under fire for being the only district open in the north county on Jan. 25. On that day, social media was blowing up with harsh criticism for the superintendent.

That next school board meeting? Not one single district parent or resident showed up to complain or ask for answers about policies related to weather-related closings. It has even fallen off the radar of the board.

Our over-reactive, fix-it-now society has already moved on or, in a sense, turned the channel.

Focus on the future

On Saturday, the OBSERVER includes a special section dedicated to looking forward to opportunities that focus on growing our region. Included in the Vision 2019 piece are a group of eight businesses, institutions and people who are making a difference in our region.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.


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