Council won’t continue televising Monday meeting
Published 10:03 am Tuesday, August 17, 2010
FRANKLIN—City Council on Wednesday voted 5-2 to suspend future airings of the Monday, Aug. 9, council meeting, citing what was characterized as verbal “abuse” against city staff by a councilman.
Mayor Jim Councill said several citizens had suggested that the meeting not be re-aired.
Councilman Greg McLemore said the allegations stemmed from a disagreement with City Manager June Fleming during the Monday meeting about a tour the two took with public works to examine problems with sidewalks, ditches and streets in McLemore’s ward.
He called the decision censorship.
“For us to take out a meeting from broadcast because we may not have liked something, then I think that we’re sliding down a very slippery slope,” McLemore said.
He and Councilman Don Blythe cast the two dissenting votes during Wednesday’s special meeting, which had only one item on the agenda. Franklin City Council meetings have been aired on the city’s PEG channel on Charter Communications cable since last fall. The meetings are shown live and re-aired several times in the days that follow.
A number of council members said they had received calls from concerned citizens about behavior during the Monday meeting.
“I feel obligated not to allow something that was abused to re-air,” said Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson.
Johnson said she and the mayor met with Fleming and City Attorney Taylor Williams and “the majority of council is deeply apologetic for the content” of Monday’s meeting.
McLemore said the meeting should be shown in its entirety to let the citizens judge the events.
“If I did anything to bring any embarrassment on this council, I apologize to the citizens of Franklin, however, I don’t feel as though that was the case,” he said.
Blythe and Councilwoman Mary Hilliard said they could support editing certain parts out of the meeting for re-airing.
“I think some crucial things were brought up in the meeting,” Blythe said.
Other council members, however, didn’t agree that editing was a solution.
“I think that is a very dangerous precedent to start,” said Councilman Benny Burgess. “Either we broadcast it or we don’t.”
Burgess said what McLemore said wasn’t necessarily offensive, but it was a personnel issue and shouldn’t have been addressed in the open.
McLemore took issue with council members who suggested showing the meeting would portray the city in a bad light.
“I believe that we need to exercise every opportunity to allow the citizens to know what is going on,” he said. “Unfortunately, if it should come across that we have some problems in our city or on our council, I think it’s only a reflection of reality.”
On Thursday, McLemore said he wanted to extend a challenge to the mayor, vice mayor or any council member to a public debate on the issue of transparency in the city’s government.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Councill said the decision not to re-air the meeting was not a matter of stifling free speech.
“It is not a matter of freedom of speech, it is a prerogative that we have to either broadcast or not. We are under no compulsion to broadcast,” he said. “This is purely a consideration and a service to the citizens.”
Councilman Barry Cheatham said council members should hold themselves to the same policy—if not more strict—than the one for citizen’s time, which prohibits personal attacks against city employees, management or council members.