Residents of Dunedin and Safety Harbor who have a computer or cable TV have access to a good source of first-hand information about candidates running in the March 10 city elections. City government television channels are providing the public an unfiltered look at those who are running and thereby helping voters educate themselves.
In Dunedin, residents can go to the city government Web site at www.dunedingov.com, and click on the Dunedin TV logo on the right side of the screen. From there, click on the "2009 list of additional programming archives" and choose from among three videotaped programs featuring the eight candidates running for mayor and city commissioner. Two are videotapes of public candidate forums and the third is a studio interview show featuring questions asked by a representative of the League of Women Voters.
Dunedin city government appropriately removed itself from the management of these programs, merely providing the technology to videotape and replay them for the public. The programs can be watched at will on a computer, or they may be viewed at scheduled times daily on Dunedin TV Ch. 615.
Residents of Safety Harbor can watch a videotaped forum that features the seven candidates for City Commission answering questions asked by the League of Women Voters. Safety Harbor government's InSight TV (Knology Ch. 15 and Brighthouse Ch. 615) is airing the forum several times a week. To watch it any time on your computer, go to www.cityofsafetyharbor.com and click on Candidate Forum on the right side of the screen.
Until recently, local governments were too skittish to provide such programming. They feared being drawn into the politics of an election or being seen as favoring one candidate over another.
The solution was to merely videotape candidate events that were organized by others and had rigid formats that were fair to all candidates. Clearwater was the first North Pinellas city to offer its residents a televised candidate forum, followed eventually by Largo. Dunedin is topping those by offering not only two candidate forums, but also the interview show.
This programming is beneficial because it allows viewers to watch the candidates talk about their qualifications and answer questions about important local issues. Residents who might never have seen or heard a candidate before voting now get that opportunity.
It is important for voters to understand, however, that televised forums don't provide all the information they need to make an informed decision about a candidate. For example, candidates may choose not to reveal key information about their backgrounds or voting records. The questions they are asked may not cover all the important issues in a campaign.
These days, voters have access to multiple sources of information about candidates, including local newspaper and television reports, campaign materials distributed by candidates, Internet searches, and personal contact with candidates who walk neighborhoods or appear at community events. Televised forums are an additional tool.
With so much information available, there is no reason for voters to feel they must cast their ballots blindly in city elections.