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Live, from Seminole, it's City Council Night

(ran West, Seminole editions)

After the new City Hall opens next month, residents here could be treated to local reality TV if the City Council decides to televise its meetings.

The technology will be there, City Manager Frank Edmunds said, but it's up to the council to decide whether to open its meetings to the world.

It's a big decision that has many ramifications, but at least two Seminole council members favor the idea.

"I think personally we should televise," John Counts said Friday. "I think it's good to see who's doing what in your community; who's saying what. . . . The pitfall is (that) once you're doing it, you're pretty much locked into doing it indefinitely."

Jimmy Johnson said the advantage is greater exposure. Few people attend the twice-monthly council meetings, but more folks would be likely to tune in if all they had to do was turn on a television.

Greater exposure, he said, would mean more people could see and understand Seminole government and community issues.

Another plus, Counts said, might be better voter turnout. Once voters see council members in action, they might be more prone to go to the polls to either retain them or kick them out of office.

And, if more residents took an interest, more fresh ideas might be generated, Counts said.

Counts, a Pinellas County native, said he used to watch St. Petersburg's council on television mainly for its entertainment value. He was especially fascinated by the public's comments.

Neither he nor Johnson thought television would change the basic dynamics among council members. The group as a whole is pretty civilized and professional even when members disagree, they said.

Pinellas Park has televised its meetings for about 20 years. Mayor Bill Mischler was a council member when the changeover took place and served on the committee that chose a cable company to do the televising.

Mischler said he would "absolutely" recommend the Seminole council televise its meetings.

"I'm a firm believer in it," Mischler said. "We're employed by the people so the people should see what we're doing."

From all accounts, Mischler said, the council meetings and monthly Meet Your Mayor and Council show have large audiences. At times, folks have come late to meetings only to tell council members, "I was sitting at home watching and came down here to tell you what I think."

But Mischler had some advice should Seminole decide to go live.

"Council members better watch what they say," Mischler said. "You better smile more."

Council members also should be ready for residents to comment on everything from issues to fashion.

Some folks, Mischler said, tell him he should wear a coat and tie. Others tell him he should be more casual and wear a golf shirt with the Pinellas Park logo.

Recently, Mischler wore a black suit, white shirt and black tie. That prompted one of his constituents to ask if someone in his family had died.

For the most part, Mischler said, council members do not grandstand even though the meetings can get contentious at times. But occasionally, a resident will try to use the opportunity to speak as a chance to perform for the cameras.

Pinellas Park resident Randy Heine, who has filed papers to run for mayor in 2006, is very aware of the cameras and their impact. He carries a sign with his name to prop on the podium in front of him when addressing the council. The council's reaction has been to film him from the chest up so viewers do not see the sign.

They've also denied Heine a chance to appear on the Meet Your Mayor and Council show to debate Mischler.

Heine calls both of those actions unfair. But he's still an ardent advocate of televising meetings. In fact, Heine would like to see all meetings televised, including such groups as the planning and zoning commission, and the equestrian and recreation boards.

"Fair or unfair, it needs to be televised, that's the bottom line," Heine said.

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