ITHACA, N.Y. — As progressive as the City of Ithaca is, it’s lacking in an important regard: transparency. That’s where it could take a page from the Tompkins County Legislature.
On the county level, every legislature meeting is live streamed and posted online for people to watch no later than the next morning and Public Information Officer Marcia Lynch sends out highlights of the meetings the same night they happen. Her last set of highlighted notes was nearly 1,000 words long.
This effort toward transparency isn’t done for journalists. It’s done for the public and the public notices.
Time and again, on social media, people post videos from the meetings, often upset about something an elected official said or telling people to check out a discussion.
That discourse, the agreement or disagreement about what elected officials are doing, is essential to democracy and the free flow of information.
The City of Ithaca is lacking on the front of this kind of transparency.
Yes, meetings are live streamed online and on television. But if you miss the live stream, too bad. You won’t be able to catch up on what happened for up to several months.
The Ithaca Voice has complained, through emails and phone calls, about the untimeliness of this issue since July.
The reasoning behind not posting videos of meeting was initially understandable — the city was really bogged down with projects, there is an employee vacancy. But after continued inquiry into the matter over a period of months, The Voice was eventually told, essentially, that city employees are just too busy to post videos in a timely manner.
The mayor, Common Council, Chief of Staff Dan Cogan, and City Clerk Julie Holcomb are all aware of Ithaca Voice inquiries about the issue. The only elected official who has bothered to address the issue has been Second Ward Alderman Ducson Nguyen who inquired about the videos and suggested last month that maybe the videos should be posted to Youtube or social media so people could easily access them.
His suggestions seem like the way to go, especially if city employees are not willing to post the high quality videos online in a timely manner.
During the last Common Council meeting, the usual recording equipment was not working correctly, so Mayor Svante Myrick temporarily live streamed a video of the meeting from his Facebook.
That video had seven shares and 55 comments. People commented with their opinions and shared issues they were having on certain roadways. Despite the horrible video quality and sound quality, people were sitting at home engaged in a discussion about local politics.
But as of Thursday morning, it’s been one day short of a month since any videos were uploaded online here.
Now, this delayed access to information doesn’t put a stopper on journalism. When journalists want information, they make phone calls, send emails or stop by offices. But it does do a disservice to the community and a disservice to the people who speak before Common Council.
Their voices are important and deserve to be heard. The public should get the opportunity to, in a timely way, scrutinize, agree with, or disagree with what public officials are doing.
The city can do better than it’s doing right now and it should. Accessibility and transparency should be among some of the top priorities for government and elected officials.
Who knows? Maybe the county will be looking to the city for ideas about how to make government happenings more accessible to the public. After all, the county doesn’t stream committee meetings. It should.