BARTOW — Polk County commissioners on Friday signaled support for installing cameras in a conference room where bi-weekly meetings are held.
The Commission has been criticized for holding its agenda reviews and business session briefings in the boardroom of the Bartow County Administration Building. This room is not easily accessible to the public, and meetings are not broadcast, as are regular county commission meetings.
Open government advocates have questioned whether holding the meetings in such a location might violate Florida’s sunshine laws, which require government meetings to be open to the public.
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During Friday’s agenda review, Commissioner George Lindsey said he had asked County Executive Bill Beasley to include money in next year’s budget for the facility. cameras and microphones in the room. Lindsey said he preferred this approach to a possible alternative of holding agenda reviews in the county commission’s conference room, which is equipped with cameras and audio equipment.
“I love the informality of this table and looking across the table and having candid conversations,” Lindsey said. “Downstairs is a bit more formal and less casual.”
Director of Communications Mianne Nelson outlined the preliminary plans to commissioners. She said the county could install robotic cameras on three walls of the room and microphones on the ceiling above the long table the commissioners sit at.
The project would also require the creation of a control center in an adjacent room, Nelson said. She offered an estimate of the total cost between $75,000 and $100,000.
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With the commissioners offering their approval, Beasley said they would not need to discuss the matter further and funding for the equipment could be included in next year’s budget. The fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30.
The conference room, on the fourth floor of the county administration building, can only be accessed through an exterior door that requires an employee card.
Nelson previously told The Ledger that media and the public need only use a phone in the lobby to call and receive entry to the suite that houses the conference room. She said residents were not denied access and the county had not received any complaints about the location of the meetings.
County staff set up several chairs along a wall for media and the public during Friday’s meeting. Not all were busy.
Installing equipment would allow meetings to be broadcast live, Nelson said. The recordings would also be archived on the county’s website for later viewing.
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As it stands, the county records audio of agenda meetings, which are available on CD for $5.
The county commission holds agenda sessions on the Friday before the Tuesday plenary meeting, which is held every two weeks. While agenda sessions are intended to review items for discussion at the next public meeting, commissioners often hear detailed summaries from county staff during sessions and then vote to approve or disapprove of an item on the agenda. agenda at the committee meeting.