The city of Largo is continuing its effort to make government more accessible to residents, now contemplating a television show that will help residents get to know their elected commissioners as people, not just politicians.
City Manager Steve Stanton came up with the idea for In Focus, an interview program that would feature a different city commissioner each time and would be shown on Largo's government access channel, LTV Channel 15. The host of the show would ask questions designed to reveal each commissioner's background, interests and philosophies.
Last week the City Commission gave the thumbs-up to production of one trial episode of In Focus. If commissioners like it, they may give the okay for more.
However, some commissioners are anxious about appearing on the program. Commissioner Charlie Harper told a Times reporter that he wouldn't want it to be a "self-gratification type program" like he has seen done by other cities. Commissioner Pat Gerard wasn't sure she wanted to go on television and talk about private matters.
Stanton suggested the show because he thinks it might help combat public apathy _ Largo is notorious for that _ by making residents feel more connected to commissioners. "If you get to know your commissioners as individuals, I think you're more apt to pick up the phone," he said.
It is a creative idea, though given the kind of disrespectful public discourse that has occurred in some Pinellas cities lately, Largo commissioners can be forgiven for being squeamish about telling personal stories on television and encouraging people to "pick up the phone." Largo commissioners may be politicians, but they also are private people, and several are even a little shy. Commissioners might be less jumpy if In Focus focused on issues in the city and let commissioners explain their votes, rather than dwelling on their personal biographies.
That the city commissioners are willing to even consider such a program is an indication of how much they want to improve their communication with the people they serve. In recent months, Largo made changes to the sound system in the commission chambers so residents wouldn't have to struggle to hear meetings. The city also started televising more city meetings. The city Web page was improved (though it is still too difficult to access meeting agendas). And some city officials are interested in holding more town meetings out in the neighborhoods on specific issues or projects.
It would be easier to just do their business as they always have: in City Hall, in front of only staff members and the few members of the public who show up for regular meetings. Largo officials deserve a pat on the back for stepping outside their comfort zone and looking for new ways to share local government with residents of Largo.