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Some balk at video cameras

Alderman Caleb Norris seemed stunned Monday night after a firestorm erupted over plans to videotape Council meetings and make them available to the public including fellow freshman alderman Preston Lewis “calling him out” by name and criticizing Norris’ plans. Bill LawsonBuy Photo
Alderman Caleb Norris seemed stunned Monday night after a firestorm erupted over plans to videotape Council meetings and make them available to the public including fellow freshman alderman Preston Lewis “calling him out” by name and criticizing Norris’ plans. Bill Lawson

• Idea of recording City Council meetings met with resistance

Maumelle City Council members breezed through important decisions with little discussion on Monday night but the meeting quickly turned into a 2:30 hour marathon session, when it came to approving the low bidder on a $10,000 contract to add videotaping equipment to City Hall to record their meetings, council members balked to the point of almost filibustering the issue to stall it.

If that was the intent, and it appeared to be, efforts to stop the videotaping were successful,

This council meeting was also the most contentious meeting seen in more than five years with aldermen calling each other out by name, interrupting others who had the floor to disagree and audience members speaking from their seats rather than the podium and without being recognized.

Some aldermen were even whispering to each other, their whispers were probably more of a remark at what was happening than an attempt to keep a secret from the public.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Mike Watson apologized for letting the meeting get out of hand citing the need for civility even among those who disagreed on an issue.

The night’s business was rolling along at a fast pace until the resolution came up regarding the videotape.

Freshman Alderman Preston Lewis said fellow freshman Alderman Caleb Norris “didn’t do his due diligence” before presenting the videotape proposal and called the $179 camera more suited for the Exxon convenience store than the City Council.

Again Lewis told Norris by name, “He needs to do his homework.”

The open criticism of another council member by name is unheard of, at least in recent history.

After distinguishing himself with his plan to create a new Maumelle school district at its last meeting, Lewis raised a few eyebrows Monday night by his personal comments about Norris.

Norris seemed stunned by the comments but refused to give what he received back other than to say, “I haven’t been called out that many times since grade school.”

Norris also noted that everyone seemed to be in agreement at the last meeting on the need for a videotaping system and wondered why those negative comments didn’t surface before.

Alderman Ken Saunders, an actor in several Maumelle Players productions, complained that the camera might catch body language, yawning and other public displays that could be edited out of context to make an alderman appear much different than he is.

While some have suggested the addition of cameras might encourage council members to “act out for the camera,” Saunders said he thought it would do just the opposite and stymie participation and council members would be more reserved.

Norris said his intent with the resolution was to authorize the mayor and city clerk to study the equipment and install basic equipment to accomplish the videotaping because money was tight.

Criticism first came from Maumelle residents who bid on the project but who weren’t the low bidder saying the proposed equipment was inferior and it would take much more work to translate the video into a format that could be distributed to city residents.

Council members soon joined the chorus and suggested the more expensive equipment should be what was installed.

Norris questioned where the money was coming from and if it’s available now why it wasn’t at previous meetings.

Eventually the council agreed to work with local professionals to develop a request for bid list of the type equipment needed to do the videotaping right.

Some in attendance suggested again the intention was to prevent the taping rather than to facilitate it.

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