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Live video streaming of meetings proposed ; Pridgen resolution aims to boost 'transparency'

Buffalo's newest lawmaker thinks City Hall needs "real-time transparency."

Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen wants the city to launch live video streaming of all public meetings so people can watch proceedings on the Internet as sessions are unfolding.

Live streaming would make it easier for busy constituents to keep tabs on their government without having to trek to meetings.

"[Streaming] creates direct citizen access to decisions, discussions and the direction of government officials," Pridgen said in a resolution he sponsored during his first week as an elected official.

Staffers already have been experimenting with the technology to see what it would take to stream Council meetings on the city's website, said Council chief of staff James Pajak.

"We are going through the testing of that," Pajak said. "We do have the equipment, we're just not there just yet."

Pridgen said the city has an opportunity to become a regional leader in tapping technology to make government more transparent. He said city officials could encourage senior citizen centers to set up video monitors so people could watch as meetings are taking place and possibly even provide instant feedback via e-mail.

"This is 2011. It's time to move forward so that people don't necessarily have to come to these chambers but can still be instantly involved in government," Pridgen said.

Council President David A. Franczyk said he supports Pridgen's initiative and would even be open to discussing possible funding for the effort when lawmakers start working on a new budget in May.

Meanwhile, some Council members are continuing to press for a new policy that would require all city boards to film their meetings so that sessions can be aired on Buffalo's government access cable television station. Other than the Council, the CitiStat accountability panel and the Board of Education, most city entities do not tape their meetings for later viewing.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said boards that set water and sewer rates, shape parking policies, oversee public housing and perform other important tasks should be required to telecast their meetings.

For example, Kearns noted that the city's capital budget is shaped during work sessions performed by a volunteer advisory panel. Those sessions are not filmed.

"We're spending millions of dollars on these projects, but the public never really sees the presentations for these projects," Kearns said.

But legal experts have said the Council does not have the authority to require some city agencies -- such as the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority -- to film their meetings because they are quasi-independent agencies.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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