The assembly room of the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater has the equipment to broadcast County Commission meetings live on the Internet and on television. But on Tuesday, officials moved into another room where viewers could not follow, putting an important discussion in the shadows when it should have occurred in full view.
The subject was the 2009-2010 budget and County Administrator Bob LaSala's belief that county government must be substantially downsized to cope with a projected drop of at least $48-million in property and sales tax revenue. That would amount to a 9 percent drop from this year's $550-million operating budget. The County Commission held a televised work session in the morning to hear and discuss LaSala's dire budget projections and other matters, then adjourned.
But in the afternoon, the commission reconvened for another budget work session with all of the county's constitutional officers and appointing authorities. The session was held in a nearby conference room that had no broadcasting equipment, shutting out the viewing public. A county spokeswoman said the meeting was moved because the conference room had a large table where all the officials could sit and have an "informal discussion." But Tuesday was not the first time that commission work sessions were held in a conference room away from the television cameras.
The viewing public doesn't care which seating arrangement public officials prefer. They just want to know what's going on — particularly when millions of dollars in public money are at stake. Commissioners need to put all of their work sessions on camera.