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Accessible council meetings will benefit everyone

Let’s face it: Not everybody has the arguable luxury of spending two or three hours (or more), two Wednesdays a month, sitting in council chambers at the Suffolk Municipal Building, watching the council conduct the city’s business. Some people have church commitments that keep them away, some have to work, some have children and some just couldn’t imagine subjecting themselves to the drudgery that often defines local government in action.

For some time now, the city has provided a video feed of council meetings on its cable channel, and those broadcasts are repeated on a regular schedule. For most folks, it hardly rates as must-see TV, and for those without cable service, it would be more appropriate to call the broadcast “Can’t-See TV.”

However, there is a lot to be said for being knowledgeable about what’s happening at City Hall. Suffolk is in the midst of some big changes that will affect residents for decades to come. The CenterPoint intermodal center set for Holland Road is a good example. And it’s also an instructive one when it comes to citizen involvement, in that at the height of the discussions on that controversial project, fewer than 100 people attended meetings to observe their council members’ actions.

A new city effort should make things a bit more accessible for many folks in Suffolk. Beginning July 1, council meetings will stream live on the Internet. Anyone with a high-speed connection to the Web will be able to bring up their favorite video client and watch the proceedings of each meeting as it takes place.

An even more useful facet of the program is that meetings will be archived in such a way that those who are interested will be able to search the meeting archives by date, by topic or by agenda item. Want to learn more about next year’s budget? Once the system is up and running, you’ll be able to enter the term “budget” into a search field and get a list of video segments related to it, without having to sit through endless rezoning hearings and recognition ceremonies. You’ll also find links to the pertinent public documents.

The new system will be a boon to a city that trumpets its desire for transparency in local government, since the first step toward that goal is a government whose meetings are accessible to all. Suffolk citizens should take full advantage of the new system when it comes online in July.