Mandatory recording of Council and Committee Meetings

In Dundee the practice at City Council and Committee meetings is to record decisions and votes. There is no record of assurances given by Conveners and Officers including the Chief Executive. The clerks do not record the arguments put forward by councillors in debate, or the answers given by officers to councillors' questions.

The low cost of advanced digital technology means that making an audio recording of meetings is easy and cheap. The recording could be published on council websites and councillors could take excerpts to play on their social media pages. Currently Dundee constituents rely on the local press, which inevitably reports only a small percentage of proceedings. They can squeeze into the uncomfortable, small public gallery which has only a partial view of the chamber and poor acoustics.

Councils who wish to go further can broadcast proceedings live; many already do. It appears that most people who refer to recordings look them up later, but there is certainly a place for live broadcasting, especially in cases of considerable public interest (the recent debate in Dundee over the siting of a Custody Unit in a local community would be a case in point).

However, some councillors have put up stiff resistance to recording their speeches. Some are nervous, some are risk averse and don't want their less able colleagues to be exposed, some regard it as a vanity project, some see it as a waste of money which could be better spent elsewhere.

In a digital democracy, there should be no choice. All Council and Committee meetings should be recorded and made available, permanently. Clearly the recordings of private sessions could only be made available to those entitled to hear them.

 

Why the contribution is important

Democracy is important, but democracy does not work when decisionmakers do not share their information and reasoning with the people they serve. People will endorse conspiracy theories or accuse councillors of corruption when unexplained decisions are taken.

In the example of the custody unit given above, there was a real debate at Dundee's Planning Committee at which councillors gave some excellent and thoughtful speeches. 

It was clear councillors who were ready to vote against were changing their minds as the debate continued. However, their speeches will never reach the 800+ people who could not understand why a prison should be built beside two primary schools and a nursery. The result is to reinforce the cynical view that it was all a done deal. In this particular case, that was never true.

At election time, voters would have a ready way of assessing the effectiveness of their councillors; they could see them at work.

by Jimmy on November 21, 2018 at 02:37PM

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