By: Hood Richardson
Our system of government at the national, state and local levels is a republican form of government. That is, the people elect the people who make the decisions. In a democracy the people themselves make those decisions. But in a republic the quality of government depends in large part on two factors: The quality of the representatives--chiefly their expertise and integrity; and the accountability of these elected officials to the voters. Accountability necessitates transparency...that is, the people knowing what their elected officials are doing.
Far too many elected officials believe that once they are elected they can do as they please. And for the most part they can...unless the people know what they are doing. So for all too many the game is to keep the people's business from the people. This is done by manipulating the news.
We even have an Attorney General who has sicked the FBI on parents who may not behave the way the Democrats want them to behave at school board meetings where the parents have been contesting what their children are being taught.
There is no debate that the great majority of the national news is manipulated all the way into the world of propaganda. Most local news from TV and newspapers is soft pedaled. That is, our real controversies are never addressed. It is all too often superficial. Governments have a big hand is news manipulation. Government is so dominant in our present culture that finding truth is very difficult. Within the realm of elected officials the manipulation is done by a select majority that has dominant control. Those who are not a part of the dominant majority have some options. Among these are to keep silent, squawk a little or work to bring the truth to the public. Many elected officials outside the dominant majority simply keep quiet or go along to get along. Those who keep quiet are either embarrassed to admit they are not on the inside, or they want to keep their position of apparent importance in the community.
There is an effort on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to suppress debate, and deny the public information about how decisions are made. This effort is clearly seen and proved by the poor job of videoing meetings for the public. A similar situation exits with the Board of Education. Numerous reports indicate that citizens do not feel welcome to make presentations to the board and time constraints discourage a healthy dialogue. These meetings are not video recorded or streamed on line. Don’t fall for the excuse that money is the problem. With today’s technology and expertise of the staff this is a non-starter.
All this with the Commission started about three years ago during the combined reign of Frankie Waters, Ron Buzzeo and Gary Brinn. Only Waters remains a commissioner. Randy Walker had a contract to record the meetings and put them on the Public Access Channel. The cost was about $27,000 per year. Ron Buzzeo and Frankie Waters approached him with the complaint that boiled down to “Randy Walker was doing too good of a job”. They accused him of making some commissioners look too good and others look bad. They discussed getting the meetings out of the local motels because “The meetings left a bad impression on visitors and they may not want to build a plant in Beaufort County.” Contrary to what these guys thought, many people liked the meetings because there was debate and much information presented. The public could see who the bad guys actually were. They could not lie to the public about what they did or did not do in the meeting.
Randy Walker recorded the meetings in color and in high enough resolution so facial expressions could be clearly seen. Randy had one rule about favoritism. There was none. The camera was focused on the person who was speaking. The speaker either made himself look good or bad, not Randy.
Being able to see facial expressions and body language is a large part of communication and has a lot to do with determining the truthfulness and sincerity of the speaker. Providing this information is a great public service.
The meetings are now recorded from fixed camera positions showing the entire board or clusters of three people. Rarely is one person shown. With the poor quality of video it is often difficult to tell who is talking.
I heard rumblings and rumors for about two years before the Commissioners moved into the new meeting room on West Second Street. There was much unhappiness about the public having detailed access to meetings and several Commissioners were called out by various members of the public for playing politics, lying and game playing. Both Democrats and Republicans felt the heat.
These guys had a plan. They spent about $140,000 for a new state of the art video system for the new digs on West Second Street. The presumption was that Randy would continue to record the meetings using the new equipment. But, they fired Randy Walker claiming that using County Employees would save money.
The computer technologists from the Department of Social Services required a lot of training to use the system, or so it was said. Randy Walker had been fired and it became obvious that the last person in the world the dominant majority wanted to train people in how to do a good job was the expert; Randy Walker.
During the past three years we have gone thru periods of attempted recording that produced no results and very poor recording and audio quality. Because of the uncertainty of even having recording and the very poor quality of audio and video, a great many people have stopped watching. This was the plan to begin with. If you want people to go away, give them a poor product.
Recently the situation has become worse. We have had meetings that we thought were being recorded that somehow did not get recorded even with an operator on the job. We had a very serious and informative Police Committee meeting. After the meeting, the operator announced that there was no audio. The public was denied a lot of information about the poor quality of law enforcement in Beaufort County.
There have been too many coincidences that serve the dominant majority. It became crystal clear there has been a lot of manipulation during the past few months.
Getting the video on the Public Access Channel and on the Beaufort County web site presently takes up to three weeks after the meeting date. No one in County Government could explain why. I requested for the Board to designate me to deal with Suddenlink. This was refused by the Board. It was decided for the County Manager to deal with Suddenlink. The Manager reported, at the October Board meeting that for $10,000 to buy a device we would be able to up load directly to the public access channel and the complaints about Suddenlink would go away. The Manger requested a new position to do nothing but the videoing of meetings. Nothing was said about the three weeks it takes to produce a video for public viewing.
Let us see. We have gone from a cost of about $27,000 per year with a high quality product that was usually available for public viewing within 5 days of the meeting to a very poor quality product, whose availability depends on whether the meeting is helping or hurting the political reputation of four Board members. They are Frankie Waters, John Rebholz, Ed Booth and Jerry Langley.
Because of the coincidences in producing a video, an agenda item was presented at the October meeting to set some rules and parameters for recording meetings. Stan Deatherage, Randy Walker and I proposed that at any time either the video or audio was not functioning properly the operator was to immediately notify the person conducting the meeting. We also proposed that the picture quality be improved by recording at the highest pixel density possible at all times. The vote failed four to three with Frankie Waters, John Rebholz, Ed Booth and Jerry Langley voting against the motion!
The recording quality will continue to be poor, the audio will be poor, and the length of time it takes to make the meeting available to the public will continue to depend on politics until the majority of the Board lays down the law.
This is a deliberate effort to sabotage the public interest and propagandize events that happen in commissioners meetings. Neither the Manager nor the Board majority is making an effort to correct these corrupt practices. The public has a right to know.
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