Letter to the Editor: Let’s start 2020 with livestreaming!

The League of Women Voters has long believed that a democratic government depends upon informed and active participation at all levels of government. The League further believes that governmental bodies must protect the citizen’s right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible.

This year’s decision of the Dorchester County Council to not live stream its open meetings surprised and disappointed many Dorchester citizens, as members of the public demonstrated in the many letters posted in The Dorchester Banner.

Their statements underscored that the failure to approve live streaming of County Council meetings would deprive many citizens of the opportunity for meaningful participation in the governance of Dorchester County — not for want of participation, but because the circumstances of their lives (such as work or family obligations, disabilities, illness and other reasons beyond their control) did not permit them to attend the meetings.

Yes, it is true that broadband is limited, and even non-existent, in some parts of Dorchester, and that much more needs to be done to correct that deficiency. However, those arguments do not provide a solid basis for deciding that live streaming should not be made available where possible until it is universally available throughout the county.

It is not accurate to assume that in lieu of live streaming all members would be able to attend the meetings. Nor is it accurate to assume that the fact that some members of the public regularly attended Council meetings several years ago demonstrated that broadcasting of the meetings over the Bay Country Communications channel was not really necessary.

Rather, we share the view that live streaming of the County Council’s open meetings would be an important step toward trying to make this governmental process easily available to the public and allow citizens to be informed about the proceedings of this important body.

Indeed, the recent unanimous support of Maryland 2019 Session HB 71/SB 0184 “State Board of Elections-Open Meeting-Video Streaming and Recording” shows that live streaming is what Marylanders expect of government. This legislation became effective on Oct. 1, 2019. https://elections.maryland.gov/about/board.html

In closing, the Mid-Shore League of Women Voters urges the Council to reconsider its decision as its first order of business in 2020. This action would go a long way to instill confidence of the citizens of Dorchester in their elected officials at a time when confidence in elected officials is crucial.

During the coming year, the Council will be responsible for making critical decisions on approving and implementing its Comprehensive Plan, probably the County’s most important document regarding land use, growth, development, transportation and resource allocation. We urge the Council to start 2020 with a fresh look at livestreaming its open meetings.

Respectfully submitted,

Patricia A. Comella
Co-Convener, LWV-MS

Glenna J. Heckathorn
Co-Conenver, LWV-MS