Aspen public process coming to television |

Aspen public process coming to television

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Beginning Tuesday, Aspen residents will be offered the opportunity to be either entertained, informed or bored by further City Council debate.

The Aspen City Council on Monday agreed to tape and rebroadcast its Tuesday work session meetings, which will air on CGTV channel 11. When possible, the meetings will be aired live.

The additional public access will cost $2,250 more than what was budgeted as part of the city government’s contract with GrassRoots TV, which covers the taping and broadcasting of 24 regular City Council meetings and 24 additional meetings for the year.

The council’s decision has upped the annual number of tapings from 48 meetings to 96, according to Randy Ready, assistant city manager.

GrassRoots TV has offered a reduced rate of $150 per taping for the remaining work sessions this year, which amount to 37 ” 22 of them are covered under the current contract and the other 15 will be funded at $150 a piece.

Airing more public meetings was a move that elected leaders had previously contemplated, but became somewhat controversial earlier this month when a private resident, Marilyn Marks, paid GrassRoots TV $300 to tape the council’s June 10 work session, at which a financing bond to pay for affordable housing was to be discussed.

Marks’ move was met with anger and frustration by some council members who said they were being forced to make a policy decision about funding more tapings without proper public discussion.

The verbal lashing prompted Marks two days later to resign from the Citizen Budget Task Force and its housing subcommittee, which were created by the council to oversee financial matters in City Hall and its affordable housing program.

Since then, an outpouring of letters to the editor printed in local newspapers have opined about the meeting which was called one of the biggest emotional outbursts by elected leaders some observers have seen in years. Yet, only a handful of people actually attended that portion of the meeting, which was not taped.

Regardless, too much time has been spent on the issue, said Mayor Mick Ireland.

“I apologize for taking up the public’s time on this,” he said, adding further discussion about the matter and Marks’ somewhat adversarial relationship with the council should be conducted outside of the public realm. “I’ll meet with people anytime, anywhere to talk about views, but not here.”

Council members said they didn’t take issue with Marks’ move to bring in GrassRoots TV but rather her previous statements that they say insinuated that city government isn’t transparent and isn’t operating with good governance.

Elected officials listed a host of ways they are creating more public involvement, including the establishment of citizen task forces and webcasting council meetings so they can be viewed via the Internet ” a feature that will go online soon.

Marks’ viewed the June 10 reaction from council as intimidating and demeaning, which she said no member of the public should have to deal with for simply speaking out in front of elected officials.

Councilman Jack Johnson said he fears that webcasting and more broadcasting of public meetings may not spawn increased participation by citizens, as they will simply sit back and watch decision making instead of physically being present for the debate.

Mike Maple, a citizen who support Marks’ efforts and works with her on governmental issues, told the council he doesn’t believe it’s in elected officials’ purview to determine how public meetings are recorded, whether it’s via a television camera, a microphone for the radio or a notebook for a print reporter. He asked for clarification on the council’s position regarding recording public meetings.

Ireland said it’s a moot point because the council supports television broadcasting of its meetings; the public policy point was that additional tapings required further funding and that deserves community debate.

“I don’t know what part of ‘yes’ you don’t understand,” Ireland told Maple, adding if citizens are interested in more public meetings they will now have the option.

“We are going to bore people to death,” Ireland joked.

Work sessions often become meetings when important policy decisions are made and council directs city employees to implement them. On Tuesday’s agenda is the possibility of a small dog park in the city and legislation that would effectively limit uses in the commercial core to protect locally serving, affordable businesses.

The meeting begins at 4 p.m. in City Council chambers in the basement of City Hall.